A bald eagle in flight looks magnificent. They look so forceful that many empires, from Rome to America, have used bald eagles as their emblem. The bird has the gravitas conquerors feel is appropriate. Which is why I was so surprised a number of years ago when a bird expert at Acadia University described the eagle as a wimpy bird. They cast an impressive profile, but he wasn’t buying their media relations.
Nonetheless, people love to watch these imperial birds soar. And while America struggles to re-introduce a national symbol they inadvertently killed off through habitant destruction and pesticides, Nova Scotia is awash in eagles, as many as 52 have been spotted in a single tree by the roadside near Sheffield Mills.
This abundance of eagles inspired Sheffield Mills to launch their Eagle Watch Weekends. The birds, which summer along the Bras d’Or Lakes in Cape Breton, winter along the Minas Basin. At low tide the Basin becomes the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet of stranded tom cod and other fish. As if easy pickings wasn’t enough, local poultry farmers have helped concentrate the eagle flock around the community during the festival, which is held over two weekends in January/February, by putting out other food to supplement the eagles’ diet.
During the Eagle Watch Weekends, the community hosts pancake and sausage breakfasts, a chowder lunch and hearty supper to fortify birders against the cold. It’s a simple weekend of eagle aerobatics, cold weather and hearty, stick-to-yer-ribs cooking.
Sheffield Mills is outside Canning, Nova Scotia. For details log on to eaglens.ca.
In summer, bald eagles are also in abundance around the Bras d’Or Lakes. Check local tourist offices or outfitters for the best places to view them.
For a bit of an eagle-inspired laugh, visit Province House, Halifax. On her last visit to Nova Scotia, HM The Queen was taken into a room in the Legislature and shown a group of beheaded eagles. The eagles were decorative elements on window and door frames.
During the American revolution a member of the legislative assembly took umbrage to them. He felt they looked too much like the revolutionary symbol, so used his cane to behead as many of the eagles as he could reach. When shown the eagles and told the story, Her Majesty bent over with laughter at this fervent example of loyalty.
The Eagle Watch Weekends for 2017 are January 28th and 29th, and February 4th and 5th. However, eagles can still be seen outside the specific eagle watch weekends. You’ll just miss out on the breakfasts.