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Feeding Eagles Hazardous; It Should be Outlawed

Point of View / Homer News / March 13, 2005

Unfortunately, eagle feeding has resumed on the Homer Spit and in some neighborhoods.

Last April a public opinion survey by Ivan Moore Research in Anchorage revealed 55 percent of Homer area respondents believed intentional feeding of wild bald eagles should be made unlawful, except by permit from wildlife agencies for research or other special circumstances. Only 37 percent thought feeding should remain legal.

Up to 650 eagles have been counted locally.

There is a tremendous difference between feeding eagles, which are top predators and scavengers, and feeding sandhill cranes that primarily consume grain. Unlike eagles, cranes don't harass and kill waterfowl, loons, seabirds, sea otter pups, as well as small pets and poultry. Eagles, which have no natural predators, also pose a significant threat to cranes, which appear to be declining significantly here.

If feeding wild eagles is biologically sound, why has the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued press releases and publications requesting the public not to feed eagles? Practically all state and federal wildlife biologists and wildlife law enforcement personnel oppose eagle feeding.

The number of biologists and pertinent organizations contacted that disapprove of intentional feeding of eagles has grown to more than 50 in eight states. These include the Audubon Society, Alaska Raptor Center, Alaska Bird Observatory, American Eagle Foundation, International Crane Foundation, Raptor Research Foundation, Eagle Institute and the Alaska Center for the Environment.

Though usually well intentioned, people baiting hungry eagles are also adversely affecting habituated eagles by attracting them into residential and industrial areas like the Spit where they are more likely to hit wires and other obstacles.

Since 1988, more than 700 known eagles statewide have been electrocuted. Hundreds of mortality reports divulged that some eagles have been trapped, shot, poisoned and hit by vehicles.

A September 2004 Alaska Department of Transportation Wildlife Hazard Management Plan for the Homer Airport considers the artificial concentration of fed eagles, ravens, crows and gulls on the Spit as a potential threat to aircraft.

This report recommends monitoring unnatural food sources on the Homer Spit and states that "Food sources provide the strongest attractant for hazardous wildlife."

"These food sources attracted hazardous movements of bald eagles, ravens, crows, gulls ... over the airport," according to the report.

This comprehensive report also indicates that ravens and eagles use airport facilities as perches. Eagles are considered "one of the most hazardous species to aircraft" because of their size and propensity to roost on airport equipment.

Department of Transportation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports revealed aircraft strikes and near misses due to eagles. The possibility of a serious aircraft collision because of increasing numbers of eagles is another reason to not feed them.

Evidence clearly shows feeding predators like eagles alters their natural behavior, distribution and abundance and adversely affects other wildlife. It is an aircraft threat and increases the probability of a serious avian disease outbreak on the Spit and other feeding sites where eagles and other scavengers concentrate.

State law prohibits feeding bears, wolves, coyotes and certain other predators.

Bald eagles should be added to this list.

Edgar Bailey is a longtime Homer resident and conservationist.

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