3 Tips for Eagle Watching with the Family

During the winter months, the Welcome Bridge along the Nooksack River is a great place for spotting eagles in Whatcom County. You can access the bridge just off Mt. Baker Highway, northeast of Bellingham. 

These iconic birds gather around the Nooksack River to feed on the salmon that swim upstream to spawn. Though our area is home to resident bald eagles, spotting them in action can be an elusive thing. Weather conditions and time of day are key to some really good viewing. 

Here are three “rules” to help you and your family get the most out of your eagle-watching adventure in Whatcom County!

Rule 1: Even-numbered years make for better viewing.

“Even” numbered winters tend to have higher rates of salmon returning upstream to spawn, which makes for a better showing of eagles. 

Whether you are searching out our national bird in an even year or an odd one, you’re likely to still get a good show of these bald-headed buddies if you follow Rule 2 & 3.

Rule 2: Eagles are more likely to be active in the morning.

From about sunrise to 10 a.m. is your best bet for catching bald eagles feasting on salmon. The golden hour before sunset is another time when you’re likely to see lots of activity as the eagles get in one last bite of salmon before they bed down for the night.

One destination for eagle watching is the Welcome Bridge along Mosquito Lake Road. About 16 miles from Bellingham along the Mt. Baker Highway, Mosquito Lake Road will be on your right (look for the Welcome Grocery on the corner), and it’s just another mile to Welcome Bridge Park along the Nooksack. The small park provides parking for a handful of vehicles, but just before the bridge, there is ample parking next to the fire station (just be sure not to block the driveway for their emergency vehicles).

And safety note for parents: If you park at the fire station, you’ll need to walk with your little ones across the bridge on a narrow sidewalk, or on the road itself. 

As soon as you are out of the car, start looking and listening for the eagles. You can often hear them chattering in the trees on either side of the river. The Welcome Bridge parking area gives way to a steep step down onto the rocky bank along the Nooksack.

You’re likely to be greeted by the smell the dead salmon left over from the eagles’ smorgasbord, as well as see the skeletal carcasses of what remains after the eagles, and then the seagulls, dine. Your kids may find the stinky fish skeletons equally as interesting as the great birds perched in the trees.

To spot the eagles, look to the bare branches of the deciduous trees along the near shore or across to the evergreens on the far shore. If you’re lucky enough to catch the eagles during feeding time, you will be front and center for the show.

Rule 3: Eagles tend to be more active on cloudy days.

You may not want to venture out on a blustery, rainy morning, but it might increase your chances of spotting Washington's bald eagles. 

On sunny, bright days, many eagles are active, soaring into the sky rather than hanging around the lowlands where you can more easily spot them.

On cool, cloudy days, however, bald eagles like to hang close to rivers. Like us, they prefer to spend dreary days eating and digesting food. You may also spot them perched in trees alongside the water, waiting for the rain to pass. 

Make sure to bring warm layers and proper rain gear, as well as binoculars and cameras for capturing these majestic birds. 

More eagle watching

Another nearby spot that may prove good for viewing the eagles is Deming Homestead Eagle Park. The park is located on Truck Road about two miles west of the Welcome Bridge. (Truck Road intersects with Mosquito Lake Road across from the fire station.) The park has a small parking lot and plenty of picnic tables along the trail, with beautiful views of the hills to the east. 

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism
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