It’s spring in Unalaska, and that means bald eagles are building new nests — and attacking pedestrians who stray too close.
The eagles are nesting on the rocks across the street from the Iliuliuk Family & Health Services Clinic, on the S-curves of Airport Beach Road and behind the Dutch Harbor post office.
Public safety has put its “Danger: Nesting Eagles” signs back out in those spots. The signs feature a stencil of a person being swooped upon by one of the birds.
That is exactly what happened to city recreation manager Ben Bolock last weekend.
Bolock was jogging by the rock face across the road from the clinic.
“Probably about two weeks ago, I saw one carrying back pieces that they make their nests out of,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Here we go again.’”
He says thought the coast was clear on Sunday — when an eagle swooped at his head and struck him. This was not his first run-in with the birds — Bolock says he’s been swooped on at least three or four times in the past.
Last year, an eagle slashed him with its talons.
“But the other times, it’s been just like a thump on the head,” he says. “I don’t know what they do to cause that — if they just hit me with the front of their talons and it doesn’t penetrate the skin, or what they hit me with.”
Bolock says he’ll give the nesting areas a wide berth from now on. And just to be safe, he’s started carrying a stick for self-defense.
“I looked kind of foolish doing it, and I had some weird looks, but it’s either that or a helmet, I guess, and I don’t want to go the helmet route,” he says. “At least not yet.”
Meanwhile, city officials are going back to the drawing board to figure out how to protect residents from eagles.
Deputy police chief Mike Holman says Unalaska still has more time left on a federal permit to remove eagle nests near the clinic. They got the permit last year. Usually, the Fish and Wildlife Service would charge $15,000 for the rights to disturb a nest. But the situation near the clinic was dangerous enough that they waived the fee.
But even if city workers remove the nest, it’s not clear what they can do to keep eagles from coming back again. They fenced off part of the cliff over the local clinic last year, but the birds rebuilt their nests on a different outcropping.
Holman says they’re still weighing their options. For now, folks enjoying the spring weather will just have to keep an eye on the sky when they pass by the eagles’ turf.