Winter Home of the Bald Eagle

Photo credits: Patricia Heintzman.


(Archive) 34th Annual
Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival & Count
January 2020


On January 9,1994, a world record of 3,769 bald eagles were counted at the annual Brackendale Winter Eagle Count.

Every winter, thousands of bald eagles congregate on the shores of the rivers surrounding Brackendale to feed on the abundant spawning salmon. Hundreds of eagles at a time can be seen from the river dikes, feeding along sandbars or roosting in nearby cottonwood trees. Two dozen or more in a single tree is not uncommon. Eagle season in Brackendale is from mid- November to mid- February, with prime viewing in December and January.

The eagle count is organized by the Squamish Environment Society and the Brackendale Art Gallery Society. Counters gather, at the appointed time, at the Brackendale Art Gallery. Here they are assigned to the 17 areas, in groups under the leadership of experienced counters, according to their willingness to bushwack or just walk. Warm, waterproof clothing is essential and sometimes skis or snowshoes come in handy. The count is tallied throughout the day as the groups return to the Gallery.


In 1994, Thor Froslev and Len Goldsmith* conceived the idea of establishing an eagle reserve in Brackendale. Seventeen local organizations and numerous Brackendale residents petitioned the provincial government in support of the concept. In October 1996 the Brackendale Eagle Reserve, now a Class A park, was approved as part of the B.C. Protected Areas Strategy.

The new 755 hectare reserve protects important eagle habitat, keeping it off limits to logging, mining and other development. The reserve takes in public lands, including old growth forests and large cottonwood trees, in which the eagles like to roost, on both sides of the Squamish River from the Mamquam to the Cheakamus River. Most of the park is not easily accessible but there are good viewing areas.

Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park

*Len died Dec. 8, 2005 at the age of 82. At a Memorial Celebration at the Brackendale Art Gallery, close to 100 friends, neighbours and relatives gathered to hear and tell of Len's dedication and determination in protecting and enhancing the natural beauty wherever he went. We will miss you, Len.


The adult eagle's white ['bald'] head and tail feathers are developed by its fourth or fifth year. An immature eagle has mottled brown and white plumage. Wing span is 6 to 8 feet; the females are larger than the males. Eagles can fly at 50 kmh, dive at 160 kmh and can spot a fish from more than a kilometer away. Their diet is mainly fish, supplemented by water fowl, small mammals, and carrion when fish are in short supply. Their preferred habitat is in the old growth timber along the coast.

Bald eagles mate for life and can reach the age of 40. They remain together during nesting season to raise the young. Nesting activities begin in early April. There are a few nests in the Brackendale area but more can be seen along Howe Sound and in West Vancouver during the spring and summer. Many eagles summer on the B.C. coast, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Queen Charlotte Islands, fishing for herring and feeding young.

In the winter the eagles gather inland on salmon rivers to feed on the abundant supply of spawned out salmon. Larger gatherings in fewer areas is the result of habitat destruction. Residential, industrial and logging activities which threaten salmon habitat also threaten the eagles.

Disturbance by humans during the winter can also have a detrimental effect on the eagles. It disrupts their feeding and forces them to expend precious calories taking flight needlessly. Eagle watchers are requested not to go down on the sandbanks, not to try to get too close, to be reasonably quiet and to keep dogs on leash and under strict control.

To accommodate the many tours and individuals drawn to the area during the winter eagle season, an information booth has been set up at the main viewing area on the bank of the Squamish River. Trained volunteers are on hand to field questions and to promote responsible eagle viewing.

For a detailed map of the Brackendale Eagle Reserve click here.

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Guest Links

  • Sardis Wildlife Center, Ferndale, Wa.

  • Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival

  • David Jennings: Yeti Photo

  • American Eagle Foundation