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Feeding the Eagles

Claim:   Photographs show bald eagles being fed on a spit in winter.

MIXTURE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, December 2009]

In January the weather was so cold that the bald eagles were cruising over our houses looking for hapless cats to make a quick meal. Some kind souls decided to feed the eagles down at Goose Spit [Comox, British Columbia] so they would survive the cold spell. Here's what happened! A former teaching colleague took these photos in front of his home. They are incredible!

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Origins:   The photographs displayed above are genuine, although they're often accompanied by text that places them in the wrong locale, and they don't depict a site that hungry eagles just happened to stumble upon where they found friendly locals willing to feed them.

These pictures were taken in Homer, Alaska, at a designated eagle feeding area near the (former) residence of Jean Keene, commonly known as that state's "Eagle Lady." As described by the Los Angeles Times:
With her flaming red hair, bright red lipstick and large round glasses, Keene was a fixture in Homer, an Alaska fishing and artists community 130 miles south of Anchorage.

She started feeding the eagles in the late 1970s, when she was working at a fish-processing plant called Icicle Seafoods, located on the narrow spit of land that juts into the Kachemak Bay. Every day she would chop hundreds of pounds of salmon heads and tails, as well as cod and herring, most of it spoiled or freezer-burned, and toss it to the predatory birds.

The eagles' wintertime arrival and the woman feeding them on the pebbly beach outside her tiny trailer attracted photographers to Homer from throughout the country. As a Washington Post reporter put it in 2005, "If you have seen stunning close-up photographs of bald eagles with fish in their beaks in glossy magazines ... chances are good that they were shot outside Keene's trailer."
The Anchorage Daily News also noted:
The number of eagles drawn to the [Homer] Spit increased each year. Keene's biographer, Cary Anderson, said in 2003 that she was throwing out 500 pounds of food every day. Curious onlookers would show up, too, parking like they were at a drive-in movie theater, telephoto lenses protruding from their windows.

"Jean never once sought publicity or attention for feeding the eagles," Anderson said. "She was generous to everyone who was interested in photographing the
eagles, whether she was interviewed or not. She never asked anyone for a dime."

Criticism of the eagle-feeding efforts flared up around Homer in 2004 after photo guides and lodge owners began duplicating Keene's program, attracting eagles for the benefit of their clients.

Critics said it was demeaning to turn the national bird into a Dumpster diver. They said crowding eagles was unhealthy, threatened smaller birds and pets and drew eagles away from their natural wintering grounds. Government biologists frowned on the practice but stopped short of calling for regulation.

Supporters called such complaints unproven and noted the practice drew tourists to town in a quiet time of year. Photographers lavished praise on the gritty Keene.

"Homer was exactly the right place for Jean Keene, because she was a character," said Ginkowski. "You don't see those originals much any more."
Ms. Keene passed away in January 2009 at the age of 85.

Last updated:   6 October 2010

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Sources:

    Kizzia, Tom   "Homer's 'Eagle Lady' Dead at 85."
    Anchorage Daily News. 15 January 2009.

    Anchorage Daily News.   "Homer's Eagle Lady."
    1 January 2009.

    Los Angeles Times.   "Jean Keene, Alaska's 'Eagle Lady,' Dies at 85."
    20 January 2009.