• December 15, 2014

Everyday Eagles: The Flip Side of a National Symbol

Alexa Keefe

Wet, bedraggled, dirty. These are not adjectives commonly associated with the American bald eagle. For German wildlife photographer Klaus Nigge, that is precisely the point. A long-time admirer of the eagle, Nigge wanted to show the flip-side of a national symbol most often experienced from a reverential distance.

To tell this alternate tale, Nigge needed an environment where the living is anything but easy. “I found the perfect solution for this,” Nigge says of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, where precipitation—rain and snow—is a constant. Here, eagles eke out an existence squarely on the ground—living an everyday life full of highs and lows, just like you and I.

“The waters around the Aleutians are very rich in fish naturally, so that makes [for] good breeding territories. And in wintertime, the sea is never frozen,” Nigge explains. Cast-offs from local fishermen and tourists alike make for easy pickings for the eagles, who are natural scavengers. “Sea eagles very much like to feed on carcasses,” Nigge says, “So if it’s easy for them to find something instead of using the energy to hunt, they do it.”

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) wet eagle standing on ice after rainfall Unalaska Aleutian Islands Alaska February 2007
A bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
stands on the ice after a rainfall in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
Photograph by Klaus Nigge

As a result, Nigge estimates there are more eagles in the Aleutians than anywhere in the world. Habituated to this cycle of feeding and scavenging, these eagles are also very used to people. All perfect elements for an in-depth character study—a “home story,” as Nigge puts it.

Befriending local fishermen in Dutch Harbor, Nigge spent time on the ground—on his belly— observing the eagles’ behaviors around the fishing nets. He also identified some of the eagles’ natural gathering spots where he used some of his own enticements in the form of frozen fish. Nigge let the eagles decide how close they wanted to get, careful not to force their approach. This eye-to-eye contact created an intimacy that is central to the message he wanted to convey.

“I know as a biologist that everything that they do is somehow driven by instinct, but nevertheless after a while I just claim that some of them my are my friends.”

Klaus Nigge’s photographs of bald eagles are featured in the January issue of National Geographic. Follow Nigge on his website.

There are 32 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. K.P.Mishra
    April 12, 2015

    Eagle is the symbol of self-determination, freedom and unity.

  2. Tunde Adepegba
    March 13, 2015

    looking at these wonderful pictures, reminds me why this is our National Bird!

  3. wadi3 el yamani
    March 1, 2015

    national juografique

  4. sunil Chengannur
    February 27, 2015


  5. reece geyer
    February 15, 2015


  6. Bill Roach
    February 2, 2015

    I’ve been to Dutch Harbor and it’s an amazing place. Never have I seen so many eagles. Your photos are tremendous. I took some cool pictures as well and was amazed how raw they felt.

  7. viral shah
    January 26, 2015

    Nigge sir. U r taking photography in new heights each photo tells story it self that what eagle was about. Amazing job.

  8. jack
    January 24, 2015

    its interesting

  9. SriRamanan
    January 19, 2015

    let them live for next Generation. good job.

  10. Ray
    January 14, 2015

    Think the proper grammer should
    be “you and me” not “you and I”.

    To tell this alternate tale, Nigge needed an environment where the living is anything but easy. “I found the perfect solution for this,” Nigge says of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, where precipitation—rain and snow—is a constant. Here, eagles eke out an existence squarely on the ground—living an everyday life full of highs and lows, just like you and I.

  11. Kriste Baude
    January 6, 2015

    I just read that the fine for poaching a Bald Eagle is $500,000

  12. Kriste Baude
    January 3, 2015

    Oh what beautiful pictures! The eagles are so wonderful and strong and majestic…

  13. Hélène Essertaize
    December 25, 2014

    Thank’s ! For the beauty.

  14. Virginia Lusk
    December 22, 2014

    Fantastic photos of the eagles. Fortunately for us here in the Midwest, eagles are starting to nest locally. How lucky for me and others that we get to also photography them now here. Your photographs are wonderful. Thank you for sharing your talent with us!

  15. Nilvia R . Moncada
    December 21, 2014

    Beautiful documentary ,I always love to learn about different animals. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Ton
    December 21, 2014

    Super !

  17. maoosd qureshi
    December 21, 2014

    Eagle is a bird have quite different characterics than all bird, this is strong in every aspect even in eye sight, haunting etc. Dr. Mohammad Iqbal a great poet of Muslims also recognized by many different communities had chosen the name of eagle making a symbol of self determination, freedom, unity and strength throughout in his poetry

  18. Andrea Mazza
    December 21, 2014

    What a gorgeous eagle photo! When I lived in SouthEast Alaska, eagles and ravens often played together – flying about, taking turns diving into the Inside Passage, while often taunting the harbor seals. I found them to be powerfully entertaining, especially when I started to recognize they were in most art – from wedding rings to wood carvings. They are revered as sacred birds, regardless of their droppings. I miss seeing them in the lower 48.

  19. Gerd Van
    December 21, 2014

    There is a youtube video of a group of bald eagles running a pickup truck apart for food.

  20. Albert Tu
    December 21, 2014

    If there were no city dumps or men-made metal roofs, there ‘d still be the majestic bald eagle.

  21. Keith Hamilton
    December 21, 2014

    It’s not illegal to feed a bald eagle. He should of came to Adak. Look up the story of the Eagles being burned at Adak city dump. Live long and prosper eagles.

  22. katie
    December 20, 2014

    I grew up in dutch harbor. Almost 20 years here and while beautiful they are some of the most obnoxious birds. When they land on your metal roof their talons sound like nails dragging on a chalk board. Not to mentiin they try to eat your small pets. Oh and the poop EVERYWHERE!

  23. Aldrin Ndalani
    December 20, 2014

    Good job…i sometimes see them on National Geographic. Fascinating species.

  24. kamal
    December 20, 2014

    Ja man

  25. Lucas
    December 20, 2014


  26. Rick Stahl
    December 17, 2014

    I lived in Dutch Harbor for a few years and found the best place to spot eagles was at the city dump.

  27. anthonycellis
    December 16, 2014

    Hence the arguement over whether it should be the turkey.The eagle suits us just fine with our country the way its turned out lol.

  28. Annie Betz
    December 16, 2014

    Shame on you for the illegal act of baiting an American bald eagle for a photograph.

  29. nicole lette
    December 16, 2014

    Such a fantastic bird

  30. Karl Schulze-Hagen
    December 16, 2014

    Brilliant, funny! A look into the details of eagle life (& humor).

  31. Harold Caylan
    December 15, 2014

    amazing and iconic creature!

  32. Bill Converse
    December 15, 2014

    should have a look at the multi hundreds in in Harrison river or Squamish river in BC when the salmon start to die & float downstream…

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