People love to see wildlife up close, and so many folks put out bird feeders or simply scatter food for our feathered friends. In the late 1960’s, a farmer, Cyril Coldwell of Gaspereau, took the concept a bit further than most, and began feeding Bald Eagles in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. At that time, seeing an eagle was a rare occurrence, and so Coldwell’s feeding of offal and discarded cattle and other meats would attract a single bird. By the mid-1970’s he was feeding a dozen or so, and this is when we first saw them on our farm nearby across the river from Canning in Habitant, NS.
Several other farmers began to do the same thing, and by 1990, the community of Sheffield Mills, just west of Canning, made the feeding into a bit of a tourist attraction when it formed the “Eagle Watch” weekend, as farmers began feeding a bit more heavily during the heart of the winter in January and February. The Eagle Watch has now developed into a planned festival celebrating the birds the last weekend of January and the first weekend in February. The birds have responded, and there are now several hundred breeding pairs of Bald Eagles in Nova Scotia, in fact, Nova Scotia has the highest concentration of breeding bald eagles in northeastern North America.
However, as with many things well intentioned, we may have gone a bit too far. The Province probably exceeded the carrying capacity for eagles years ago, and so it is a bit of an artificial population that now exists. We now need to study whether the feeding is actually beneficial in the way it is now done. Certainly it is popular with the people who come to see the birds – last weekend there were more than 500 people during the 10 o’clock feeding, and there were lots of eagles to see, as perhaps 60 or so came to the chicken pieces scattered in the field designated as one of the feeding stations.
So, there is some controversy about continuing the practice as there is definitely an impact on other wildlife – eagles, for example, have been known to take over osprey nests, and the osprey is thus an impacted species with the rise of the eagle population. A good scientific study is needed to inform best practice here, and some in the Annapolis Valley are now doing just that.
Certainly, the people who come to see the Bald Eagles get a connection with nature that would not have been possible decades ago, and the sight of these magnificent birds is truly awe-inspiring. However, we need to do the right thing by the eagles and question whether our desire to see the birds needs now to be balanced by what’s best for all wildlife.