As the winter gets cold and rivers freeze over, American Bald Eagles migrate south down the Mississippi Flyway, along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, in search of food. The best source for food is near locks and dams, where water still flows freely, where the eagles can dive into the water for the fish they feed on. And that’s where they stay for the winter. Since the eagle population is once again on the upswing, you’re bound to see a lot of eagles near the locks and dams during cold January and February winters. In fact, many of the towns and parks along the Mississippi Flyway celebrate with festivals based on eagle watching.
January 4, 2014: Alton-Audubon Eagle Festival
Alton, Illinois and West Alton, Missouri
See eagle ice carvings in downtown Alton or try the ice putt-putt. (It’s a lot more difficult than it looks!) Across the river at the Audubon Center at Riverlands in West Alton, Missouri, see a live eagle up close, look for eagles through scopes from inside the building if you prefer to stay warm. For five dollars you can take a one-hour shuttle ride to various spots along the Mississippi River in search of eagles.
January 25, 2014: Eagle Watch Weekend at Starved Rock
Sponsored by the Illinois Audubon Society, see Live Birds of Prey shows and participate in family activities at the Starved Rock Lodge and at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center. The kids’ discovery room at the Starved Rock Visitor Center will be open, too. For just $1 you can purchase a wristband to ride the trolley between all three locations.
January 4, 5, 25, 26 2014 and February 1, 2, 8, 9 2014: Eagle Watch and Clock Tower Tours
Rock Island, Illinois
After watching a short film about the American Bald Eagle in the visitor center, the Corps of Engineers park ranger will answer any questions you have before walking you to the clock tower for a tour. From the relative warmth of the clock tower, you’ll look for eagles flying or roosting in trees nearby. It isn’t unusual to see a dozen or more eagles in one tree. Reservation required.
January 2014 and February 2014 select dates: Bald Eagle Days at Pere Marquette
Grafton, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, bills itself as the winter home of the eagle. Pere Marquette State Park offers a presentation on the bald eagle followed by an observation drive.
If you don’t make it to the festivals, you can still look for eagles on your own at most of the above locations. Remember to dress warm and bring along binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens.
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