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Feeding Eagles Interferes with Nature

Point of View / Homer News / March 13, 2005

It is disappointing to see the one-sided article on eagle feeding in last week's Homer News. Nothing was said about the harmful effects of hundreds of eagles, which is frowned upon by the American Eagle Foundation, Alaska Audubon Society, Alaska Bird Observatory, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous other organizations and virtually all biologists I have contacted.

While raking in $320 per day per student to photograph fed eagles in an industrial area on the Homer Spit, one "professional" photographer indicated he was an animal and bird lover. He stated, "I couldn't live with myself if I was contributing or condoning something that was going to harm them." He is either ecologically unaware or a hypocrite, because artificially elevating winter survival and concentrating hundreds of bald eagles, which are top predators, is detrimental to some other species of birds and mammals.

Seabirds, sea ducks, cranes and other waterfowl are experiencing increased predation by the burgeoning local eagle population. Feeding eagles also attracts many crows, ravens and gulls which also prey on the eggs and chicks of ducks, seabirds and other birds.

Observations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seabird biologists revealed that only four to five eagles disrupted breeding of 9,000 black-legged kittiwakes on a colony in Prince William Sound. Time lapse photography coverage of plots over three years showed that kittiwake nesting success was high when no eagles appeared, but when eagles occurred, kittiwake nesting largely failed.

Another biologist also reported failure of 2,000 nests caused by a pair of eagles on another island. Similar reports have been received from Kodiak and elsewhere, and I have often seen panic flights of cliff-nesting seabirds caused by eagles.

Besides direct predation by eagles on certain colonial species of seabirds, the disruption results in ravens, crows and some gulls swooping onto nests and taking eggs and chicks. When local feeding on the Spit and neighborhoods generally ceases in April, many eagles disperse and likely prey on breeding seabirds long distances from Homer. More than 20 years of feeding copious amounts of fish wastes on the Spit has altered the natural distribution, abundance and behavior of eagles over large areas.

The bottom line for many transient photography instructors and some Homer businesses appears to be whatever brings money is good regardless of the effects on other species, electrocutions of eagles, shooting of nuisance eagles that kill pets and poultry, disease threats associated with an artificial concentration of birds and hazards to aircraft at the nearby airport.

To further enhance winter tourism maybe feeding seals and sea lions should be legalized again to add another attraction to the eagle zoo on the Spit.

Edgar Bailey is a longtime Homer resident and conservationist.
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