The Nature of Things flies with the eagles

I’ve always loved watching predatory birds flitting around the skies of Southern Ontario. As a kid, I marvelled at their ability to cruise updrafts, endlessly circling in search of prey. Driving along the 401 east of Toronto means a likely chance to see one or two hawks perched on power poles or treetops.

And while the majestic bald eagle can be found in Ontario, I have yet to see one in the wild. Luckily, there’s “The Eagles Next Door” to sate my hunger. Thursday’s newest instalment of The Nature of Things explores the lives of Haliaeetus leucocephalus, that have gradually migrated into Vancouver. As host David Suzuki points out, it’s becoming more common to find one of these birds roosting on a back deck or in a tree in the city’s suburbs.

The benefit is two-fold. Bald eagles find plenty of food to eat (including scavenging at landfills) and spots to raise their young, and scientists are able to observe once-endangered species more easily. As John Elliott, research scientist at Environment Canada says, there are more bald eagles breeding in the Fraser Valley now than there were in the whole of the contiguous United States in the 1960s. Informative and entertaining, “The Eagles Next Door” explores which trees the birds prefer to nest in, how the animals have adapted to deforestation in the city and folks like Russ who rejigged his backyard to encourage birds to nest there. Footage from his cameras in White Rock (you can watch the bald eagles on his property via webcam) shows how nests are built, the laying of eggs and both parents raising eaglets Lima and Kilo. The 12 months in the lives of the bald eagle family is documented.

It’s not all good news for bald eagles, however. Being so close to humans means altercations where birds almost always end up injured—there is amazing footage of an eagle saved from a power line—and eating out of landfills may be turning them into scavengers.

“The Eagles Next Door” is from Parallax Films, the folks behind Bahama Blue, Battle Castle and When Disaster Strikes, and the episode is visually stunning. Extreme close-ups allow viewers to see droplets of water shaken from feathers and the intricate steps taken when hunting prey. Check it out on Thursday night.

The Nature of Things airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.