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Bald Eagles Viewed Differently in Alaska

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Bald Eagles Viewed Differently in Alaska


Bald Eagles Viewed Differently in Alaska

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The bald eagle was taken off the threatened species list this week, marking the end of a four-decade recovery. The eagle is still a rare sight in the continental U.S. but not in Coastal Alaska, where eagles outnumber people in some places.

From member station KIAL in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, Charles Homans reports.

(Soundbite of bald eagle chirping whistles)

CHARLES HOMANS: Do you hear that? Here it is again.

(Soundbite of a bald eagle chirping whistles)

HOMANS: That's a bald eagle. There are maybe a dozen of them circling high overhead. It's a beautiful thing to see, so much so that you almost forget it's happening over a huge pile of garbage.

(Soundbite of noise)

HOMANS: This is the local landfill in Unalaska, a remote fishing port in the Aleutian Islands. If you've never been to Alaska, the number of eagles here would make your jaw drop. On a busy day, there are hundreds of them. Right now, one of them is perched on a crane over the landfill's garbage bailer looking for a bite to eat.

Mr. JIM SHABOLAN(ph) (Resident, Alaska): It just sits up there waiting on a rat, but there's no rat around so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOMANS: Jim Shabolan works at the landfill.

Mr. SHABOLAN: Let's scare them off.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHABOLAN: Clap our hands or either turn the hose on and sees water flying in the air as it fly.

HOMANS: If you're the kind of American who's uncomfortable with somebody talking about your national symbol this way, you might want to turn off your radio for the next few minutes.

You see, the bald eagle maybe an American icon but it's also a scavenger. And after watching one eats scraps of rancid chicken out of a dumpster, it's hard to look at the back of a quarter the same way. Steve Downs(ph) works at the Unalaska Landfill.

Mr. STEVE DOWNS (Employee, Unalaska Landfill): They went over there and had gone through a bale of slop. They aren't quite as majestic looking.

HOMANS: Coastal Alaskans look at eagles the way New Yorkers look at pigeons. The big difference is that the pigeon isn't federally protected. If you kick one off the sidewalk in Manhattan, you don't go to jail.

This is tricky for Unalaska's seafood processing plants, another popular eagle hangout. Rocky Caldero is the operations manager at the UniSea plant, the largest processing facility in the port.

Mr. ROCKY CALDERO (Operations Manager, UniSea Plant): Anything you do is going to be considered a harassment, so you just got to keep them away.

HOMANS: Other people have tried to make use of the eagles with unfortunate results. Caldero remembers when the guys in charge of another plant in town were trying to figure out a creative way to get rid of a few large crates of fish guts. They had the bright idea to take the lids off the containers and just leave them on the dock. I mean, eagles love eating this stuff, right?

Mr. CALDERO: Well, a lot of the eagles would collect the, you know, big piece of cod entrails or a big cod head, and when they flew off, they'd lose their grip. And it would - you had cod guts and heads spoiling on cars all over the place because they're so heavy, they couldn't take off with it.

HOMANS: So if these birds really are coming back in the Lower 48, you might want to invest in a good umbrella.

For NPR News. I'm Charles Homans in Unalaska.

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