A variety of places in the United States offer opportunities to see this honored bird in the wild.
By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Every state in the continental United States hosts bald eagles at some time of year, and some have several sites where eagles congregate in large numbers. And believe it or not, winter is the best time to spot them “” in the right habitat, of course. For more information about the bird itself, be sure to read this month’s “Window On Nature” column. Although your best bet for seeing bald eagles is in Alaska, they also can be found throughout the contiguous 48 states. Here we’ve picked several locations where bald eagles can be seen at this time of year.
1. Washington, Upper Skagit River Watershed. Northwest Washington draws hundreds of eagles to feast on the thousands of dead and dying salmon left around at the end of the spawning season. (Sounds gross, but it certainly attracts the eagles.) Bald eagle numbers peak in late December and early January. You can contact the Bald Eagle Interpretive Center at (360) 853-7283 or obtain more information at www.skagiteagle.org.
2. California-Oregon Border, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge. Think big. If you want to see the largest concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 states, check out the Klamath Basin, straddling the California-Oregon border. As many as 1,000 eagles occupy the refuge complex during the peak months of January and February. Several suggested auto tours allow visitors to view the eagles from the comfort of their vehicles. To plan your visit, call the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge at (530) 667-2231, or visit the refuge online at www.fws.gov/klamathbasinrefuges.
3. Wisconsin, Upper Mississippi River. Wisconsin is a stopping point for bald eagles from November through March as they visit the locks and dams along the Mississippi River. One good place to see them is near Cassville, at Nelson Dewey State Park. The 15th annual Bald Eagle Days Celebration will be held in Cassville on January 26-27, 2008. During this event volunteers will help visitors locate eagles from the wildlife observation deck at Riverside Park. Contact the park at (608) 725-5374 to find out more about Cassville’s eagles, or check out the park’s Web site at www.cassville.org/nelsondewey.html.
4. Missouri, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. There’s a good reason why this area hosts so many bald eagles in early winter “” that’s when the waterfowl are most abundant. The refuge is located within the historic Missouri River floodplain in northwestern Missouri. Bald eagles migrate into the refuge in the late fall. As many as 300 immature and adult bald eagles may stop by. Call (660) 442-3187 or visit www.fws.gov/midwest/squawcreek for more information.
5. Idaho, Wolf Lodge Bay. It’s the rugged topography, dense tree growth, mild climate (for Idaho), and plentiful food that draws bald eagles to Wolf Lodge Bay. They start arriving in November, and the numbers peak in late December through early January. Wolf Lodge Bay’s rocky shores and submerged gravel beds make it ideal habitat for kokanee salmon, a primary winter food source for the eagles. For additional information, contact the Bureau of Land Management’s field office in Coeur d’Alene at (208) 769-5000, or visit www.blm.gov/id.
6. Massachusetts, Quabbin Reservoir. Here lies one of the Northeast’s best-known bald eagle locations. After eagles were reintroduced into the area in the 1980s, they became established once again as a breeding population. Now year-round residents are joined in the winter by migrants from the north. February is an ideal time, as that’s when the eagle population peaks. Check out Enfield Lookout at the reservoir, as well as the Merrimack River between Newburyport Harbor and the Haverhill line. You can contact the visitors center at (413) 323-7221, or visit www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/central/quabbin.htm.
7. South Dakota, Karl E. Mundt National Wildlife Refuge. You have to love a refuge that plays host to anywhere from 50 to 200 bald eagles in the winter. They begin arriving in late October, and their numbers peak in December and January. During mild winters, when fish and other food resources are plentiful farther north, fewer eagles tend to take up residence here. However, harsh winters can draw a lot more of them to the refuge. Call (605) 487-7603 or visit www.fws.gov/mountain%2Dprairie/refuges/mundt for more information.
8. Florida, Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area, Prairie Lakes Unit. The bald eagles in Florida don’t need to migrate, so you can view them any time of year, but we’ve always found the state more enjoyable during the winter. The Three Lakes area is named for Lake Kissimmee, Lake Jackson, and Lake Marian, and the management area is in the center of the largest concentration of breeding bald eagles in the lower 48 states. The nearest town to the Prairie Lakes unit is Kenansville. Call (407) 436-1818 for more information.
9. Maryland, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This is another place to see bald eagles year-round. The refuge now has a healthy breeding population, and high concentrations of wintering eagles dine on the migrating waterfowl. According to refuge literature, it has “the largest concentration of breeding bald eagles in the eastern United States, north of Florida!” That’s worth boasting about. Call (410) 228-2677 or visit www.fws.gov/blackwater for more details.
10. Oklahoma, Lakes And Reservoirs. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation reports that on average, more than 800 bald eagles visit the state each year. The best viewing areas tend to be at the spillways near dams. The following lakes often have the highest concentration of eagles: Kaw, Texoma, Tenkiller, Fort Gibson, Grand, Canton, Great Salt Plains, Tishomingo, Washita, and Spavinaw.
11. Northern Mississippi Valley Region. A great source of information about bald eagles is the Web site www.baldeagleinfo.com. According to Hope Rutledge, who runs the site, if you can’t get to Alaska, a great alternative is the Northern Mississippi Valley during January and February. “As many as 5,000 bald eagles winter on the river between Cairo, Illinois, and St. Paul, Minnesota, tending to concentrate near several large dams.” (The earlier Wisconsin entry lies in the heart of this region.)
12. Don’t Forget The National Parks. Wildlife viewing and national parks go together, but to see bald eagles you need to pick a park with the right habitat. Check out some of these: Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland; Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; Olympic National Park, Washington; North Cascades National Park, Washington; Glacier National Park, Montana; Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming; Acadia National Park, Maine; and Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota.
13. Winter Bald Eagle Festivals. Do you want to learn more about bald eagles as you watch them? Early in the year, a number of locations hold bald eagle celebrations where you can both see and learn about these magnificent birds. Do an Internet search on “bald eagle festival 2008.” Here are a few that sound as though they’re worth a look:
Quad Cities Bald Eagle Days in Rock Island, Illinois, January 12-13, 2008. www.visitquadcities.com/for_cold_is_cooler/bald_eagles.html
Upper Skagit Bald Eagle Festival in Concrete, Washington, January 26-27, 2008. www.skagiteagle.org
Connecticut Audubon Society’s 2008 Eagle Festival in Essex, Connecticut, February 16-17, 2008.