The Curious Case of the Upside Down Eagle

by D. Simon Jackson


This is a story of a peculiar eagle in Brackendale, BC (just north of Vancouver) – the world capital of the iconic birds. Every winter, hundreds (and thousands on occasion) of eagles congregate in the Cheakamus Valley to feast on dying salmon. And this year was no exception.

While home for the holidays, my fiance, Jill, and I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon photographing the eagles of Brackendale, thanks to the kindness of my parents.

Watching dozens of eagles flying, fishing and fighting is always an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, but, as I discovered, it was also the least interesting part of our day. That honour went to a very special eagle that decided it was, in fact, a bat. (Eaglat? Bagle?)

I first spotted the eagle majestically flying over our head and tracked it to its landing perch: a nearby tree. But rather than sit stoically on a branch like hundreds of its brethren, it landed and remained upside down.

My first assumption was that it somehow managed to get tangled in the branches and was stuck in this perilous position. I delicately picked my way through a barb-wired fence (protecting my camera and not my body, of course) in order to get closer to the tree and determine a) how badly the eagle was caught and b) if it required assistance from the local animal rescue team.

As I got closer it became quickly apparent that the eagle had predetermined this landing strategy and was, in fact, enjoying an upside down, bat-like rest.

Determining that the eagle was fine, I retreated to the road and for over an hour, while photographing another eagle, kept a watchful eye on the Eaglat/Bagle as it slept peacefully.

Eventually it released its grip on the tree, nose-dived toward the ground and, at the last second, swooped upwards and off to the river for a snack. (Sadly, this sequence was not captured by my camera for, as Jill will point out, I have a brilliant track record of waiting for hours for take-off shots, only to move away from my camera at the worst possible moment.)

So, what to make of the Eaglat/Bagle?

I’m not sure.

Maybe upside-down rest helps with salmon digestion. Or maybe it breaks up the monotony of the same beautiful view.

An eagle perched on another tree certainly was as taken by the upside-down sleeping strategy as I was, looking on curiously, though refraining from joining in on the fun.

While I thought it was odd behaviour for a bald eagle, I also admit to knowing far more about bears (for two decades I helped run the campaign to save the spirit bear) than eagles. But as I didn’t capture an eagle flying directly into my camera lens, with a salmon dangling from its talons, I’m going to keep telling myself that this sequence is far better.