Keeping a Keen Eye on the Birds of Prey on Lake Pend Oreille

October 13, 2015

By Carolyn Price

Photo at right: A pair of bald eagles. Photo by Jeanine Cardiff.


When the Ice Age in the Northwest ended about 12,000 years ago, it left in its wake a lake so deep that two Space Needles could stand on top of each other and only the 12th Man Flag on top would be visible.

The lake is northern Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced “ponderay”) and is the state’s largest body of water at 43 miles long, six miles wide and 1,172 feet deep. It is situated along the banks of the town of Sandpoint.

The Shawnodese. Photo by Carolyn Price

Last June our family hopped aboard the Shawnodese tour boat for its daily 90-minute Birds of Prey Cruise to view active eagle and osprey nests.

In 2014, 23 active eagle nests were counted on the lake as well as numerous Osprey nests. Our late-June trip was well-timed: late June and November are the best times to view non-resident eagles migrating through the area while ospreys are more visible in the summer. Resident eagles can be viewed abundantly year-round.

Ospreys can end up with nests 10–13 feet deep and 3–6 feet in diameter, however, the ones we saw were about 3–4 feet wide and built on bridges and train trestles that crossed the lake. We spotted numerous pairs of eagles sitting peacefully side by side in the shoreline’s pine trees, watching us with their very keen eyesight as we floated by.

We learned that both species mate for life and use the same nest each year. Bald eagles typically have two eaglets annually while ospreys usually hatch three chicks.

At each sighting called out by our host Linda Mitchell of Lake Pend Oreille Cruises, or by the Shawnodese’s captain, the 20-some crowd of oldsters, youngsters and in-betweeners clustered to one side of the 43-foot classic vessel, binoculars in hand. It was amazing to see these birds so close and in their natural habitat.

Mitchell, who started the cruise company in 2000 with her husband, Curtis Pearson, has spun a lot of history tales and educated thousands of visitors on the Shawnodese over the years. So, what do people like best about her tours?

Joel Montgomery from Austin, Texas, views birds of prey from the deck of the Shawnodese. Photo by Carolyn Price

“I would like to think that it is the up close and personal interaction they have with the wildlife,” says Mitchell. “We get close enough for people to experience the wildlife, but not so close as to disturb them. I also believe visitors enjoy hearing all the anecdotal stories about these amazing creatures.”

The Birds of Prey Cruise usually runs June 12–Sept. 15 each year and is reasonably priced at $15–$22 per person, depending on age.

In addition to the Birds of Prey Cruise, Mitchell — an expert on the area’s history — offers other tours featuring the popular History Cruise, Sunset Dinner and Eagle Watching, Fireworks Cruise and private charters.

For more information, log onto, or call (208) 255-LAKE.

Carolyn Price has been known to use a protective umbrella to walk through her backyard when the crows are nesting in her north Seattle neighborhood.