|W. Lloyd MacKenzie via flickr.com|
America’s majestic bald eagle is a wildlife conservation success story –and a thrill to see. The species almost succumbed to habitat loss and DDT contamination before earning federal protection in 1967. After 40 years of recovery efforts and the banning of DDT, eagles have rebounded and the bird has been removed from the federal endangered species list.
Winter is a great time to see eagles in much of the country. Here are some refuge hot spots for winter eagle viewing and events that give you a front-row seat.
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Watch
January 18 and 19, 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
January 25 and 26, 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Take a guided van tour to see an active bald eagle nest and other eagle hangouts. Reservations are required: 618-998-5933 or 618-997-3344 ext. 1.
In winter, more than 1,000 bald eagles hunt the open water below the river’s locks and dams, swooping down to catch fish. On one recent mid-December day, more than 850 eagles were seen from Lock and Dam 13 at Fulton, IL. Aerial displays and pair bonding are best viewed January through March
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Festival
March 15, 2014; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The festival includes several free “eagle prowls” – short bus tours to see active eagle nests on the refuge. No pre-registration. Information: 410-228-2677. More than 200 bald eagles winter on the refuge, which supports the largest Atlantic Coast nesting population of bald eagles north of Florida.
Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge Bald Eagle Days
Just because the refuge’s signature eagle event is past doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Hundreds of bald eagles hang out here all winter long. A one-and-one-half-mile hiking trail called Eagle Overlook offers eagle viewing from the wetlands.
Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge Eagle Tours
January 18-19, 25-26, 9 a.m. to noon
February 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23, 9 a.m. to noon
March 1-2, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Take a guided bus tour to see nesting bald eagles through scopes.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge Eagle Watch
January 4, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26, 1:30 to 4 p.m.
February 1, 2, 8, 9, 1:30 to 4 p.m.
Take a bus tour to search for bald and golden eagles. Reserve after December 31: 580-429-2151. Children must be 8 or older. $5 per person.
Klamath Basin Refuges Winter Wings Festival
The six wildlife refuges of the Klamath Basin make great places to see eagles even if you miss the Bald Eagle Conference hosted by the refuges in February in Klamath Falls. At Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, the winter eagle population can reach 500. The Klamath Basin Birding Trail shows mapped viewing routes. Or see dozens of eagles along auto tours at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in California. You can sometimes see more than 50 eagles from one spot.
Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge Free Eagle Tours
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, December 19 to February 28, 8 a.m. and noon. Reserve ahead: 731-538-2481
Take a six-person tour through Grassy Island wildlife drive to the viewing tower over scenic Reelfoot Lake, where eagles congregate because of the abundant ducks and geese. Get a close-up look at two active bald eagle nesting sites where you can often see eagles tending their nests, and later, incubating their eggs. Bald eagle numbers peak in February, with more than 200 wintering eagles around Reelfoot Lake. Resident eagles account for 32 nests. Some parts of the refuge close in the winter to give waterfowl a chance to rest, but two refuge observation decks remain open year-round to accommodate visitors.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Bald Eagle Day
February 8, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. —
Take a tour to view eagles resting or feeding. The refuge will also provide maps to other eagle-viewing locations around the state.
The first refuge established for the protection of bald eagles, Mason Neck Refuge, has been listed as one of the top ten spots in the country to see them. The Great Marsh Trail provides a good overlook from November through March, when eagles are building nests and laying eggs.
Dozens of bald eagles drop by to feed on waterfowl and fish in the winter Along the Columbia River. Washington is one of the largest eagle nesting sites in the country. The big birds are usually easily visible from December through March and sometimes beyond, depending on the Columbia salmon runs.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and rvtravel.com