June 22, 2018
Bald eagles are a common sight for paddlers kayaking the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Nesting close to waterways, these large birds are often seen perched near nests or soaring overhead. This time of year, our kayak tours on the west side of San Juan have been treated with views of several nestling bald eagles looking out at the water from inside their nests.
Adult female bald eagles usually lay two to three eggs in January or February. These eggs are brooded for five to six weeks and after 10 to 12 weeks the nestlings start to fledge. Before taking flight, young eagles practice flapping and stretching their wings while still inside the nest. Their first takeoff is usually quite graceless. From the water, kayakers sometimes get to see the young birds perched atop dead snags, testing their wings in the breeze. When a stronger gust blows by and they start to lose their balance, they quickly tuck their wings in and hunker down on top of their perch.
As of 2007, there were 98 bald eagle territories in San Juan County (WDFW database). In Washington state, there has been an eightfold increase in recorded territories since 1972 when the use of DDT was restricted. DDT is a pesticide that made it difficult for bald eagles to absorb calcium. This affected the structure of their eggs, causing shells to be extremely thin and fragile which resulted in drastically reduced success for hatchlings. Today bald eagles are a common sight in the San Juans and frequently spotted by kayakers.