Migrant bald eagles that nest in Canada and the Pacific Northwest often come down to Idaho for the winter. One popular spot to view the birds is southeast of Hagerman. Just outside the doors of the West Point Shack, a modest roadside cafe, eagles have made a tall cottonwood tree their wintering ground. They perch on the upper branches early in the morning.
“We counted about 19 birds when we first drove up this morning," said Lyn Snoddy, a wildflife diversity biologist for Idaho Fish and Game.
The cottonwood tree beside the cafe has an unofficial name — “The Eagle Tree” — and it’s so well known that even Google Maps labels it that way. Visitors come from all over the world in the winter months to see this tree full of bald eagles.
“We have records going back at least 15 years of them using this tree," Snoddy said.
Snoddy is not sure why they pick this exact spot, but it definitely has something to do with how close it is to the Snake River, she said.
“They primarily eat fish, but in this area, they’ll probably take advantage of the number of wintering waterfowl down here," Snoddy said.
Tens of thousands of ducks and geese also winter here, just a couple minutes away at the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area.
Birds typically roost for the night in places that provide physical safety and are close to their food sources. These eagles take off from their perch in the morning and return later in the day.
"So, if people want the best chance of seeing a large group of birds at the tree, they'll want to visit in the early morning hours or late afternoon, just before dark," Snoddy said.
January is usually the peak time for eagle viewing, Snoddy said, when visitors might see up to 100 birds in the tree at once.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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