Photo Credit: Barbara Greninger

Ketchikan Eagle Viewing: 30 Eagle's Nests You Can See

The American bald eagle loves Alaska, with populations so robust that it was never listed as threatened or endangered here. With an estimated 30,000 eagles in the state, it’s easy to spot one of these national symbols, especially in Southeast Alaska.

With wing spans up to 7.5 feet, eagles are powerful, but can only lift 3 or 4 pounds. They don’t seem to know their own limits though. We’ve seen more than one eagle stranded on the beach waiting for its wings to dry so it can fly again (usually after it gets dragged into the water a bit after an unsuccessful attempt to pick up a fish it couldn’t handle.)

Spotting eagles is a highlight of any visit to Alaska. Ketchikan has 30 nesting sites weighing in up to 2,000 pounds and measure 6 feet deep. Eagle's remain in Ketchikan because eagles know they won’t starve here. Eagles are carnivores and live to eat fish, so you’ll see them plenty at the mouth of salmon streams, Ward Cove, Herring Cove, Ketchikan Creek. Salmon pass through the area from April through September. Eagles even hang around in winter; the water remains ice-free, and the fish keep coming.

Visit Ketchikan in May and you’ll start to see mature eagles preparing their nests. Their eggs hatch the following month, and through June and July you can watch adult eagles feeding their young in the nests. From mid-August through early September, the baby eagles are learning how to fly, honing their flying skills and practicing hunting pink salmon. You can see some of this nesting activity from the town’s roads and others from the water.

Eagles are thought to breed for life, and in Alaska can live into their early 30s. The iconic white hood and tail don’t show up for about five years, so if you see one with brown feathers, it’s probably a juvenile. (You can also tell by the beak; young eagles have a black beak that later turns yellow).

You’ll also see eagles hovering around the cannery area and fish-cleaning spots around town. And if you’re walking along coastal areas, look up: eagles will often perch at the very tops of the trees (the higher up they are, the better the vantage point to see fish in the water). In fact, if you know where to look, you can see five to 10 eagles on your own over a day or two. But your chances of spotting eagles increases with the Lighthouse Totems and Eagles Excursion, since their guides know where the eagles have made their nests. On this tour, you may see between 10–20 eagles, making for an unforgettable Alaskan wildlife-spotting experience.

Eagles are resident in Ketchikan at all times of year, but summer is the time to catch them feeding their young and swooping down for salmon. If viewing eagles is one of the highlights of your trip, there are specialized tours that will point out active nests and give you more insight from Ketchikan residents that have been keenly observing the population over the years.

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Eagles Nests

Just out­side Ketchikan, the Alas­ka Rain­for­est Sanc­tu­ary promis­es a close-up view of old-growth for­est, salmon habi­tat, an his­toric lum­ber mill, totem carv­ing, rap­tor exhibits, and chances to see black bear and oth­er wildlife – all in under 3 hours! There’s no bet­ter intro­duc­tion to Alaska’s South­east than this show­case of ecol­o­gy, wildlife, his­to­ry and Native culture.

The Ketchikan Region­al Youth Deten­tion Cen­ter eagle nest is best viewed from two land-based loca­tions. From the north edge of the Pub­lic Health park­ing lot (just north of the Mor­mon church) look above the left hand peak of the KRY­DC. The alter­na­tive, and per­haps best view­ing, is from the park­ing lot of Cal­vary Bible Church­Size: Medi­umView­ing: Easy 

Nordic Tug (a.k.a Long­shore­man Dock) Nest is only viewed from the water. Look SE towards the shore to the tree­tops grow­ing about 100 yards (300ft) up the hill from the N. Ton­gass Hwy. Look for a clus­ter of dead Cedar spires. The nest sits among them like a mush­room on a shish-kabob! Size: Medi­um-SmalView­ing: Mod­er­ate­ly Difficult 

The Daw­son Point eagle nest is best viewed from the water just north of East Island near the NW entrance of Ward Cove. Locate a sin­gle thin snag on the right hand end of the Daw­son Point sky­line. Count 4 trees to the left. This is a large pyra­mid shaped dark green Sit­ka spruce with a flat notch near the top right side. Adults & chicks can be seen in sea­son. Size: Medi­umView­ing: Moderate

Sax­man Nest can be seen sea­ward & slight­ly south of the City Hall park­ing lot just off the South Ton­gass Hwy. Look for this nest in a decid­u­ous tree, which is rare for the area. Eagle’s usu­al­ly don’t nest in decid­u­ous trees! Size: Medi­um-LargeView­ing: Easy

Val­ley Park School eagle nest is on the hill­side to the east. Pull into the park­ing lot and park close to the fire hydrant. Look above the right hand end of the dugout on the base­ball field until you locate a large dead snag. Size: Medi­um-LargeView­ing: Easy

Mec­ca Eagles Nest is a chal­lenge to find from land or water. It is in a low-lying tree­top above a water­front brown home with brown roof. By land, turn sea­ward off the north Ton­gass Hwy, one dri­ve­way north of the Mec­ca at 11.3 mile NT. The nest can best be found dur­ing incu­ba­tion and active feed­ing times when the white head of the adult eagle will show you this nest. Size: Smal­l­View­ing: Challenging  ...more

Ward Cove Eagles Nest is in the west­ern bight of Ward Cove, which is north of Ketchikan. It is locat­ed above the cen­ter of the west­ern bight shore­line and can be best viewed from near the point. Look for a tall dead tree top about half the way up the steep hill side from the vicin­i­ty of this loca­tion. The nest is just below the dead sec­tion and on the left. Size: Medi­um-Large View­ing: Moderate  ...more

At the Eagle Cen­ter, you can get up close to 10 res­cued birds, includ­ing a gold­en eagle, great-horned owls and even a turkey vul­ture. One pair of bald eagles has mat­ed for life and occa­sion­al­ly has babies to show off. Phone: 8002525158, 9072285530. Hours May-Sep: 8am‑4:30pm (dai­ly) Win­ter: By appoint­ment Admis­sion $10/​adult, $5 kids ages 2 – 11.  ...more

Ready Mix Eagle Nest is equal­ly seen from both the water and land. By land, turn west off of N. Ton­gass just north of Ketchikan Ready Mix & Quar­ry. Park or stand between the two pic­nic bench­es and look back over the cliff above the high­way. The nest is in a huge tree­top near the crown of a sky­line promi­nent tree. You can see the nest by boat from a vari­ety of angles.Size: HugeView­ing: Easy  ...more

Fawn Moun­tain School eagle nest is best seen from the school’s access road as you turn left off the South Ton­gass Hwy and head up the hill towards the school. Pull off the road to the left on the dri­ve­way. Look about 25 feet down from the top of the large Sit­ka Spruce tree to your southeast.

The Shore­line Nest is best viewed from land by turn­ing off North Ton­gass Hwy at the north entrance to Shore­line Dri­ve. When you are around address 5306, look sea­ward to the nest, which sits about 13 of the way down from the top of a tree. Size: Medi­um-Smal­l­View­ing: Easy

Dan­ger Island is locat­ed west of Refuge Cove & north of Chan­nel Island in the Ton­gass Nar­rows just north of Ward Cove. The Dan­ger Island eagle nest is locat­ed under the crown of an umbrel­la-shaped tree at the point of where the trunk splits. It is best viewed from north­west of the island. Size: LargeView­ing: Easy

East Clump is an island at high tide direct­ly across Ton­gass Nar­rows from the south end of Bar Har­bor near Madi­son Lum­ber. The nest tree is on the south edge of East Clump and best viewed from the water.Size: Medi­umView­ing: Moderate

Moun­tain Point eagle nest is locat­ed near a side road just north of the Moun­tain Point boat ramp. As you are trav­el­ing south on the South Ton­gass Hwy, slow down as you pass the Mt. Pt. Mar­itime mark­er. Turn left onto the side road at the 35 MPH + curve sign. Pull off this road on the left into a quar­ry type area about ½ block from the high­way and look north-north­west to a large Sit­ka Spruce.Size: Medi­umView­ing: Medium   ...more

South Ton­gass Fire Depart­ment eagle nest can be seen from the park­ing lot by their old fire sta­tion off of South Ton­gass High­way, just south of the Mt. Pt. Boat launch. Check the largest Sit­ka Spruce in the stand of tim­ber above the elec­tri­cal sub­sta­tion and you’ll see the nest about 30 feet from the top. Size: Medi­umView­ing: Moderate 

The McClen­nan eagle nest is best viewed from the water north of Totem Bight State Park from a point in front of the Mick­el home (gray with white trim). The nest is on the right hand side of a huge old-growth tree where the longest branch is attached, well below the lopped off top. This tree ris­es above the McClen­nan home. Size: Medi­um-LargeView­ing: Medium-Easy

Long Island, owned by Tim & Kay Long, is locat­ed south of Refuge Cove State Park and west of Refuge Cove Mari­na, about 8 ½ miles north of Ketchikan. The Long Island eagle nest is best viewed from the south­west side of the island by look­ing 13 the way down from the top of the largest tree on side of the island that you’re fac­ing. Size: Medi­umView­ing: Moderate

The nest­ing pair have built a new nest just north of McClennan’s house on the point and near the water’s edge. It is very near the top of the tallest tree among the short imma­ture spruce that grow there. Size: Small (but it makes the EALGES look bii­i­i­ig­ger!) View­ing: EasyDon’t spend so much time on the eagles that you miss the whales .…… BEHIND YOU!

The Lama Head eagle nest can be viewed from the water. Look for a round gray boul­der on the beach near the high tide line. Now let your eyes sweep about 35 feet to the right along the beach and then strait up to the tree­tops. If you look close­ly you’ll see the shape of a Lama in the trees. Look for the Lama’s long skin­ny neck, point­ed nose to the left, peaked ears and a pack­sad­dle. What you per­ceive to be a pack­sad­dle IS the eagle’s nest.…  ...more