For the Birds Radio Program: Bald Eagles

Original Air Date: Nov. 13, 1996

November is the month when eagles fill the Northland sky. (3:51) Date verified.

Audio missing


On Halloween I took a walk to my dentist’s office. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but cold and brisk. A biting wind normally puts me on fast walk mode, but being headed for a tooth cleaning slows me down substantially. So I ambled along looking skyward, enjoying the crisp blue sky as much as anyone can on her way to a lecture about flossing.

The most beautiful thing about a late October or November sky anywhere near the north shore of Lake Superior is that it just may be dotted with hawks and eagles. Walking back and forth the six blocks between my house and the dentist’s office, I spotted at least ten adult Bald Eagles and two dozen Red-tailed Hawks. One of the eagles also spotted me. He or she was flapping along just barely over the housetops and looked down, its yellow eye looking right into mine for a split second. I thought how cold it must be to be up there on a day like this, and was glad to be a person instead of an eagle. Perhaps the eagle was thinking how awful it must be to be a person walking to a dentist’s office on a day like this. Eagles solved their dental hygiene problems long ago by dispensing with teeth altogether.

The other eagles flying along didn’t look at me at all. Eagles almost always have things more important than people on their minds. That’s why it’s so wonderful and extraordinary to come across an eagle who actually takes notice of us.

Surprisingly, people are as unlikely to notice eagles as eagles are to notice us. Not one of the dozens of car drivers and pedestrians I saw moving along 47th Avenue East was looking up at the sky. Even living here beneath Hawk Ridge, people tend to assume that the hawk migration ended with the last kettles of Broad-wings in September. The record day of 47,919 Broad-winged Hawks on September 18, 1993, was truly spectacular, but a reasonable accountant would find just as remarkable the November 22, 1994 flight of 743 Bald Eagles—a good September flight may represent more biomass, but a November flight represents more of that intangible spirit of eagles. On this Halloween day, while I was seeing a dozen eagles, Frank Nicoletti was tallying about 640 at the ridge.

So far at Hawk Ridge this year, we have the second largest season total of Bald Eagles ever, with 2,302 counted between August 15 and October 31. Our biggest count ever, from two years ago, was almost double that, so it’s doubtful whether we’ll beat it this year, but Frank will sure be working on it. As the mercury drops and the wind picks up, he’ll add a layer or two of clothes, and stoke his furnace with more and more hot coffee, but his eyes will be ever scanning the sky searching for and tallying those wild, familiar forms. And I suspect an eagle or two will look down at him from above the ridge. It’s November—time for eagles and humans to take notice of one another.