Bald eagles, to most, are something of an American icon. But for the locals in one Alaska fishing town, they are as ubiquitous and irksome as urban pigeons.
Half of all of the bald eagles in the United States reside in Alaska, and they’re especially prevalent in Dutch Harbor, the largest fisheries port in the United States by volume. Here, a whopping 600 eagles coexist (somewhat peacefully) with a small community of only 4,700 people.
“For most people in the US they are a rare and magnificent sighting, but for us it’s just part of our daily lives. Everybody in town has an eagle story,” Carlin Enlow, director of the Unalaska Tourism told CNN’s Great Big Story.
The eagles have proliferated due to the abundant supply of food. They mainly dine on fishing bait tossed overboard, but will also scavenge through dumpsters for anything edible.
Despite their massive flapping wings, razor-sharp talons and piercing beaks, encounters with the numerous eagles are usually harmless for the citizen of Dutch Harbor. However, the birds can definitely be an inconvenience—often making life difficult for locals running errands around town.
Officers frequently have to put signs near nesting eagles because of their extremely territorial nature.
“Doing something as simple as mailing a letter can be dangerous,” says Officer Kevin Wood of the Alaska Department of Public Safety. “The eagles have been known to swoop down and attack people.”
And in one somewhat hilarious town incident, an eagle even took off with a woman’s box of bingo supplies. “All of a sudden, a wing hit my head, the talons came down, grabbed the box and flew down the street. I never saw my bingo box again,” recalled Pam Aus, a town resident who hosts Bingo for seniors every other weekend.
Harassing an eagle is a federal crime under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, so it’s best just to stay out of their way — and hold on to your bingo boxes tightly.
Bald eagles came dangerously close to extinction due to pesticide use, habitat loss, and excessive hunting, but have bounced back thanks to protection under the Endangered Species Act. (They were delisted in 2007.) There are now roughly 10,000 bald eagles residing in North America.
Watch this video from Great Big Story to learn more about Dutch Harbor’s bald eagles: