Wildlife

The wildlife on and around San Juan Island is extraordinary! During a bicycle ride or drive around the island and you are bound to spot a Black Tailed Deer, a red fox, or perhaps even a wild turkey.

Birding on San Juan Island is incredible. There are hundreds of species of birds that call the San Juans home. The types of birds vary from seabirds, migrating marine birds, shorebirds and birds of prey. Some types of birds that you can spot are: great blue herons, oyster catchers, trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons, ospreys, and of course bald eagles.

The waters of the San Juan Islands are home to an abundant sea life population. Dall's porpoise, seals, stellar sea lions, otters, and a variety of fish including salmon, lingcod and rockfish live in the waters of the San Juans. However, the most famous resident of these waters are the resident pods of Orca Whales.
Westcott Bay Nature Reserve, explore flora, fuana and wildlife of San Juan Island on this 19 acre nature reserve and scultpure park.

Whales

Whale watching is one of the most popular pastimes in the San Juans. Resident killer whales (orcas) play in the waters off the west side of San Juan Island providing a fulfilling experience for visitors watching from the shoreline or a boat.

Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan hosts the only whale watching park in the world. More than 100,000 people visit the site each year in hopes of catching a glimpse of the orcas, made famous by the Free Willy movies. Informational plaques at the park tell visitors about the whales that call the islands home.

Complete information about local whales and whales in general can be found at the The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, a nationally-recognized research facility. Top-notch researchers throughout the world come to Friday Harbor for its facilities and abundant whales.

There are three families that can be found in the islands each summer. Their families are called pods and range in size from 17 whales in K-pod to more than 50 in L-pod.

Other types of whales occasionally seen in the area are minke whales and gray whales. There are approximately 15 resident minke whales. Gray whales are not a common sight, but sometimes one of the huge cetaceans will travel through the islands on its way to the open ocean.

The temptation to commune with the whales is growing stronger year by year. Several Chamber members offer wildlife cruises and whale watch trips.

Researchers have raised some concerns about the numbers of boats that follow and float among the pods as they feed, sleep, and play in Haro Strait. Whale watchers must follow federally mandated guidelines that protect the whales. Always stay at least 100 yards away from the whales. The law is being more strictly enforced with each new whale-watching season.

Bald Eagles on the Island

With maybe the exception of whales, bald eagles are the most satisfying members of the animal world to watch in the San Juan Islands. The sight of the snow white heads and tails and dark bodies and wings against a pure blue sky takes the breath away from most people.

There are more nesting pairs in San Juan County, 89 at last count, than there are in any other county in the state. Washington has more bald eagles than any of the other lower 48 states.

Charlie Nash, the county's resident eagle expert, developed some interesting facts during his many years as organizer of the countywide annual bald eagle count. He ran the count from 1963 to 1991. More bald eagles live on the north and northwest sides of the islands because lighting conditions are best for hunting.

The eagle population dropped drastically in the 1970s and early 1980s when a plague nearly wiped out the island rabbit population. Eagles rely heavily on the rabbits for food.

Eagle populations also drop every winter when migrating birds head north to mature or to inland rivers to eat spawning salmon. Resident eagles usually live in the islands from October through mid-July, when their young are old enough to fly to salmon spawning rivers.

Eagles hatch in late spring and begin to fly at 12 weeks old. Young eagles mature at five or six years old, when their mottled brown feathers are replaced with the familiar brilliant white ones.

Eagles mate for life and produce two to three eggs per year. Couples usually have two nests. When one nest gets uninhabitable because of vermin and bugs, the eagles move to the other until the old nest airs out.

Female eagles are larger than males. An adult female bald eagle can weigh eight or nine pounds and have a wing span of six or seven feet. A female golden eagle can weigh up to 13 pounds.

Golden eagles are also popular in the islands. They resemble immature bald eagles. One way to tell the difference is that goldens have feathers all the way to their toes, while baldies have bare ankles.

Bald eagles generally eat dead or dying fish. Some have been seen stealing fish out of seals' mouths. Goldens favor land animals, such as rabbits, rodents, and cats.

Regulations enforced by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife prohibit human activity within a quarter-mile of an active eagle nest. County land-use laws prohibit construction within a radius of 300 feet of a nest.