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Unalaska: The Town Full of Bald Eagles

The bald eagle may be America’s national bird, but for the small Alaskan town of Unalaska, this majestic bird is little more than a pest. They lurk above telephone poles and stop lights, watching for potential victims to sweep down upon, litter through trash, and steal grocery bags. But mostly they wait for the fishing boats to return with the day’s catch.

Located far out in the Aleutian Islands, this fishing town of 4,700 processes more fish than any other port in the country. And fish is the bald eagle’s staple food. So during the fishing season, hundreds of eagles come to scavenge and nest in the area, creating a nuisance for the local people. The eagles guard their nest fiercely and anybody appearing even remotely as a threat is attacked mercilessly.

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Photo credit: Corey Arnold

Lt. Andres Ayures, a U.S. Coast Guard on his third day in Unalaska, was chased down the side of a mountain by a bald eagle. The bird swooped at him repeatedly, ripped his hood off his head, and forced him to the ground. It even stole the cell phone that fell out of his pocket.

About a dozen people are sent to the hospital every year with lacerated wounds.

But this also makes Unalaska an excellent place to watch and photograph the country’s national symbol up close. The locals call them Dutch Harbor pigeons, as they are found mostly around the harbor. They also hang around the town’s landfill, where they gather to feed opportunistically. When fresh fish isn’t available, the birds will anything with meat —seagulls, ducks, squirrels, mice, the occasional raven, and human leftovers. It’s actually a kind of sad seeing the nation’s pride being reduced to scavengers.

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Photo credit: Berett Wilber

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Photo credit: Corey Arnold

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Photo credit: Corey Arnold

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Photo credit: Corey Arnold

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Photo credit: Corey Arnold

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