Each year, on the first Sunday after New Year’s Day, volunteers from the Squamish area conduct the annual Brackendale Winter Eagle Count. The volunteers cover 20 separate areas by foot, snowshoe, ski and raft, over a 40-mile area from the Elaho to downtown Squamish, and from Paradise Valley to the Stawamus River. Pre-registration is required and volunteers must sign a waiver. (For those under 19, a parent or guardian must provide consent.) Contact the Eagle Count Coordinator to get involved.
According to a Squamish Chief article of December 16, 1997, “In 1986, a group of people from the Lower Mainland gathered in the parking lot of a Squamish supermarket in the pouring rain to coordinate the first province-wide Bald Eagle count in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund. The purpose of the count was to determine the BC eagle population and identify significant wintering habitat locations. Brackendale Art Gallery owner Thor Froslev invited the crazy birders into the gallery to get out of the rain and has been host of the annual eagle count ever since.” The count was later continued on an annual basis, supported by the BC Wildlife Service, the Brackendale Art Gallery and the Squamish Estuary Conservation Society (now known as the Squamish Environment Society, SES). (Link to report for the 1987 BC Count.)
In 2017, SES assumed responsibility for organizing and conducting the Squamish area count, with the Brackendale Art Gallery continuing as home base. Originally, this count was one of a patchwork of counts conducted in the Pacific Northwest each winter, to help document the size and distribution of the Bald Eagle population. It helped raise the profile of Brackendale as a key eagle wintering area and therefore provided support for the creation of the Brackendale Eagles Protected Area.
The count total has varied from a high of 3769 in 1994 to a low of 411 in 2016. The number of eagles returning to the Squamish Valley each year is influenced by the salmon runs, especially the fall Chum run. The eagles typically migrate from areas where lakes and rivers are frozen. The number of eagles counted and the location where they are counted depends on the weather. If Squamish River water levels are high in late November and during December, the spawned salmon in the lower portions of the river are washed out to sea. The eagles then move to shallower areas upriver as well as inland to the spawning channels, and it is more difficult for visitors to observe them. When the supply of salmon is exhausted, the eagles move elsewhere in search of food or look for alternative food sources such as ducks.
Most recent count by all areas: January 5, 2020
The graph above shows by year the numbers of adults, juveniles, and unclassified eagles, as well as the total number. Are you wondering why there were 593 unclassified eagles counted in 2014? That represents all of the eagles counted in the Elaho as well as in the Upper Squamish that year. The counter, working on his own, set GPS waypoints for every eagle he counted, and did not record the life stage of the eagle.
Photo above courtesy of Judith Holm: volunteers collecting their packages at the Brackendale Art Gallery before heading out for the January 7, 2018 Eagle Count.