Lessons from Travels: Adak Eagles

by Carl Strang

One side study in my Ph.D. thesis work with glaucous gulls in Alaska was an exploration of apparent hybridization with another gull species. I’ll get into that another time. For now, the point is that it gave me the opportunity to spend some time on Adak Island in the middle of the Aleutian chain, where I studied glaucous-winged gulls. I was hosted by the naval base there, which was a legacy of WWII. One of the unusual sights in early spring on Adak was a concentration of bald eagles.

In summer the eagles scattered around the Adak coast, but in winter they congregated at the naval base.

What drew them? The dump.

Here an immature eagle picks at a bit of garbage.

At the time, bald eagles in most of the continent still were at a low point thanks to metabolites of DDT which interfered with eggshell production, and so it was truly novel to see so many in one place. Now that the eagles have recovered, we find concentrations of them along rivers in Illinois in winter, where they feed mainly on fish. The ones on Adak were not exclusively garbage-eaters, however. One day I watched a young eagle as it flushed a flock of roosting gulls (likewise concentrated by the dump), chasing one down in mid-air and killing it.

It brought its prey to shore, where it was joined by an adult.

The adult chased the youngster off its catch, and ate the gull. As I will elaborate tomorrow, the naval base since has closed, and the eagles no doubt are making do without those easy winter pickings.

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1 Comment

  1. Hal Atherton said,

    November 28, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Hi Carl,
    This is interesting. I was recently listening to my Dad as he recounted what duty was like on Adak Island during WWII. One thing he mentioned was the bald eagles living there.


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