Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Eagle Lady

I belong to a local birders' list that sends me information about interesting local birding opportunities, and sightings of rare or migratory birds are sent around to anyone on the list. I received a very interesting set of pictures in mid-February showing massive numbers of eagles. And I thought they were an endangered species! More about this in a minute.
After a quick search on google, I learned more about where the pictures came from, and about Jean Keane, the Eagle Lady. Jean has her own Wikipedia page (which is where I snagged her picture from) and learned that she died of a respiratory illness in January 2009 at the age of 85.
Jean was a rodeo trick rider in the 1950s, and after suffering a devastating accident while trick riding, she eventually (in the 1970s) ended up in a motor home at the Homer Spit campground in Homer, Alaska. She took a job at the fish processing facility on the Spit, and she eventually became a foreman at the plant. From Wikipedia:
Keene's career as the "Eagle Lady" began shortly after her arrival in Homer, when one morning she noticed two bald eagles on the beach near her motor home. Keene saw offering food to the eagles as a natural extension of her practice of keeping bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds for wild songbirds. She began to bring home surplus fish from her job in a bucket, and each morning would throw some fish to the eagles over the short driftwood fence she had made around her motor home. By the end of that spring, a half-dozen eagles were showing up for breakfast. The eagles departed with the arrival of summer, when the Spit became more active with human visitors, but they returned in the winter when the tourist season had ended, and she resumed the daily feeding.
By the end of ten years, 200 to 300 eagles would show up every day to feed during the winter and early springtime months. She had her hands full! She talked her employer into giving her freezer-burned and spoiled fish, and she spent three hours every morning feeding the eagles. More from her page:
Her fish supply included surplus and freezer-burned fish from fish processing facilities still on the Spit, her own purchases using her limited funds from Social Security or retirement benefits, or fish contributed by her supporters. Visitors could come and watch the eagles Keene fed on the Spit at no cost, but were asked to stay in their cars for their own safety and for the safety of the eagles.
Jean received lots of attention from her activity and was written up in Reader's Digest, People, and the National Geographic magazine, among others. The hotel owners in the area loved the business that came from people watching and photographing the eagles. But once Jean died, the city passed an ordinance that prohibited the feeding of predatory birds. Apparently she got more than she bargained for! This Spit is where I think these pictures came from, and they are all over the Internet. It was a fascinating journey to see what can happen when you start feeding the birds, both for good and for ill.

Eagles were declared an endangered species in 1967 in all states, partly because of habitat loss and hunters, and partly because DDT, which was widespread at the time, softened the eagles' eggshells and the young did not survive. Eventually they began to recover once DDT was banned, and in 2007 the Interior Department removed them from the endangered species list. And now they are most prevalent on the Pacific Northwest coast, where I have been fortunate enough to get so accustomed to seeing them that I don't take pictures of every one. And one last picture for you to enjoy:


  1. The American Bald Eagle nest in the Lake Buchanan, Texas area. They arrive in November and leave in March and April. This area is just a few miles up the road from us and one I've been wanting to visit. Unfortunately, I haven't.

    Reading your post has brought the area to mind again. I'm checking on places to stay and if dogs are welcomed. :D Thanks for the reminder. :D

  2. we have way too many here too..and they are mean:(

  3. Amazing! I still am thrilled when I can photograph them here...they are not rare, but they are not plentiful here, either...and they are shy, so it is a feat to get photographs of them for me. We have an island on our lake where they land, so I know where to look for them. Thanks for sharing these photos, they are fantastic.

  4. What a great story! Has this given you any more of an answer to your question of whether you are helping or harming by feeding the birds? I would guess there's a big difference between what she did and what you do!

  5. Although I see them often, I love seeing eagles. They fascinate me. Just this morning when I was out walking in our neighborhood, an eagle flew over being pestered by crows.

  6. Wow, she was quite the lady! We have two resident eagles that have nested and renested in the same place for 3 years straight now; they're right next to a construction zone for a bridge being built over the Sacramento River. Our town (Redding) has named the parents Patriot and Liberty - now they're sitting on 3 eggs for the 2nd year in a row!

  7. I have never seen one in person. I think it would be a magnificent sighting. The Eagle lady was amazing. I wonder what happened to all the birds after the city passed that ordinance.

  8. I have to wonder what happened to the eagles after she died. How could they possibly understand why the food stopped being provided. That is why I would be afraid to start something that would end with my death. I hope those eagles survived the sudden change in their ability to find meals.

  9. It won't do any harm to tell you this or to relate this story, but I began to blog in 2001 and by 2002 was posting stuff about me and the backyard where I feed birds.

    I got a lot of flack from a lot of people for feeding birds. I had thought feeding birds was a American Passtime but found out I was wrong. The biggest criticism was that my feeding them resulted in them depending on me for their food and them forgetting their instincts and ability to forage for themelves on natural foods. I have a post about Matilda I will have to put up on my birds blog today -- the 10th of March.

  10. Great post, DJan. Love these birds! I'll have to read up on her adventure feeding them. As with all things, there is always the good with the bad.

  11. Jean was quite a celebrity when I lived in Alaska. There were several news articles in the Anchorage newspaper over those ten years. There was a little bit of a controversy back then but I didn't hear too much about it.

    I was always in Homer in the summer months so I never got to see her or the eagles. All of those photos look very much like the Homer Spit. I did see a lot of eagles in various locations around the state.

    Although I do not support feeding birds of prey I am sorry to hear of Jean's passing. She was quite a colorful character.

  12. How truly magnificent is the American Bald Eagle. Ms. Keane obviously thought so too, since she dedicated her life in feeding these birds.
    I have questioned my act of feeding the backyard birds, but only because in the throws of Winter where there are NO berries to pick, and snow covering virtually everything, I feel I am justified to do so.
    As soon as early Spring arrives, I wean off the feedings.
    One thing I'm sure of.....put the food out, and they will come to the feeders everyday, and then if you stop abruptly, where do they get their provisions ?

  13. I'm trying to catch up! Don't worry about what people might say about you feeding the birds. This may sound cold, but if everyone that put out feeders suddenly quit, it would not put much of a dint in the bird population. The birds could have died sooner had someone not put out the seed. Who knows? I have put out my finch feeders at times. I never keep up with it and the finches have survived just fine. There are much more serious things to worry about in the animal kingdom. Enjoy your dirty nasty birds ;)

    I have to wonder... The eagle lady died of a respiratory illness? Was it due to the birds? I don't go in Mr J's chicken house anymore because of the danger of bird droppings.

  14. It must have been something to see so many eagles! When we were in Alaska last June I was quite excited to see about 4 or 5 eagles during our stay, but never very close.

  15. These are beautiful birds. We don't have eagles where I am living at the moment. I have seen a few over the years but mostly in America where I am entranced by their size and magnificence.
    Blessings, Star

  16. I wish I'd been able to take those pictures, I've never seen an eagle up close!



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