Winter Bald Eagle Watching Along the
by Pat Middleton
Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Keokuk
Throughout the month of January, many river towns promote
organized eagle watches staffed with volunteer interpreters,
spotting scopes, and educational displays. The first "EAGLE
WATCH" along the Mississippi River was organized in Keokuk,
Iowa, in 1985.
Similar events have become popular all along the river. When a
pair of bald eagles nested along the river in Kentucky in 1986,
they were the first nesting pair in over forty years!
According to writer Megan Spees, Tom Buckley, director of Lee
County Conservation Board, said four members of the conservation
board counted about 570 eagles out on the Mississippi River on
Christmas Day in 2010. Buckley said that in a span of 10 to 15 minutes
on recently, he counted approximately 45 birds below Lock and
Dam No. 19, Keokuk,
Other organized "watches" during the year include the TUNDRA
SWAN watches in November. Harry Buck of Alma organized the first
swan watch at Rieck's Park north of Alma, Wisconsin, after he
heard a visitor videotaping 4,000 tundra swans saying that "all
the noise was coming from these
reminds me of the time I was giving a talk on one of the cruise
boats and a big eagle swooped right in to grab a fish out of the
water beside the boat.
"An osprey!" someone called out.
visitor countered, "I don't know what it is, but I know damn
well it's not an
The "bald" in the name Bald
Eagle refers to its white head or "balde" head
in Old English.
Male eagles in Tennessee weigh 6-9 pounds, females are 20-30%
larger. In the north eagles are slightly larger. A female could
weigh 16 pounds. Their diet is 80-90% fish with a few rabbits
and ducks thrown in. Nests are about five feet wide; the young
fledge at10-12 weeks. Sexually mature at 4-5 years. They mate
for life, but will re-mate when one mate dies.
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Important Eagle Watching Tips
The best eagle viewing occurs when it is cold enough to
freeze large stretches of river so that eagles must
concentrate at specific feeding areas. Mild winters mean
eagles are more widely dispersed and spotting them is that
much more difficult.
For eagle watchers, the combination of guides, equipment,
and an opportunity to view "up close and personal" the many
wintering eagles along the Mississippi River has proven
irresistible. Eagle watch volunteers need to carefully monitor
the interaction between viewers and eagles.
"Humans," says Pat Schlarbaum, "must also do their part. We
need to learn to watch, but not disturb. We in Iowa feel
strongly that we are only acting as hosts for these marvelous
creatures. Come March, we want them returning to their nesting
sites in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada, in good health.
Therefore we need to take a holistic view…protecting the
quality of the water and the fish, the air, the trees." To
that end, Pat offers these suggestions to eagle watchers:
Above all, do not disturb the birds. Eagles spend about
98% of their time roosting or perching. Loud noises,
movement, trying to approach to closely will cause the birds
to fly away, thus wasting valuable energy needed just to
hunt and survive.
Use spotting scopes and binoculars so you can stay a good
100-400 feet away from the birds. They are visible with the
naked eye, but to really view their bright yellow beaks and
piercing eyes, the truly beautiful white head and tail
feathers, binoculars are best.
Stay in a parked car when viewing so that your movements
don’t frighten them. Birds are most susceptible when
roosting and roosting areas must not be disturbed at night.
If you find an injured or dead eagle, leave it where you
found it and call your local DNR. Though no longer
endangered, eagles are still listed as threatened, and it is
against the law to kill them for any reason.
Mississippi Bald Eagle News is updated daily by Google!
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