Thousands of bald eagles flock to the Mississippi River every winter to feed at lock and dam sites.
With these birds of prey come many people looking to participate in the numerous community events to celebrate one of America’s national symbols.
“[Eagle watches have] been able to tie into events that are happening throughout the year,” said Ben DeRoo, a Park Ranger from Clinton, IA. “It offers those unique opportunities to partner up and share messages about conservation efforts.”
Clinton will host its 30th Annual Bald Eagle Watch on Saturday, January 4. It will include an indoor eagle presentation along with outdoor viewing opportunities throughout the day.
Several other eagle watch events will take place along the river, including exhibits in Keokuk and Quincy. Keokuk next month will celebrate its 30th Annual Bald Eagle Appreciation Days.
“We all have our own unique niches to [the events],” said DeRoo, who is the coordinator for the Clinton Bald Eagle Watch. “The best thing about them is that they are offered up and down the river so that more people have an opportunity to go and attend an event."
Bald eagles tend to migrate south along the Mississippi from late December through early February. Throughout these months, the Mississippi River Visitor Center provides free eagle watching tours for visitors on Arsenal Island.
For many people, these ranger-guided tours are their first opportunity to see a live bald eagle.
“It is amazing to be able to see how big a bald eagle is,” said Samantha Heilig, a Natural Resource Specialist at the visitor center. “Until you’ve seen one up close, people don’t realize how big they are.”
With a wingspan up to 85 inches, a bald eagle can be an impressive sight. Heilig said the opportunity to educate visitors about our national bird is important to the conservation of their river habitat.
“[It’s important] to learn about the way that our natural habitat impacts these birds, things like having a clean river system, a healthy environment for them to live in,” said Heilig. “I think people are interested in coming and checking that out and we hope that more people do.”
The Mississippi River Visitor Center has more information about scheduling a free tour on its website, along with a full list of Bald Eagle events in Mississippi River communities.