Every American worth their stars and stripes should see a wild bald eagle with their own eyes. And there’s no better time than the present.
Winter is the typically the best time to see the national icon in all its glory. While lesser birds may fly South or even out of the country in the colder months, eagles will settle in prime American hunting areas for the season – places with plenty of places to perch, unfrozen waters, and abundant prey.
Here’s 10 places that are worth a visit for nature lovers and patriots alike who want the best chance of spotting a bald eagle in its natural environment this winter.
Klamath Basin, California-Oregon
If you’re going to see American eagles outside of Alaska, this is one of your best shots. Klamath claims it has more wintering bald eagles than anywhere else in the lower 48 states. In January and February, as much a thousand of the raptors settle down on the California-Oregon border, where they easily viewable from several roadways.
Chilkat River, Haines, Alaska
For an ever bigger crowd of eagles, tourists flock to this river in Alaska, where bald eagles collect in mid-October through February. Attracted by the salmon run, three to four thousand eagles hunt along a five mile stretch of water in the Alaska Chilkat Eagle Preserve. This epic free-for-all buffet practically guarantees you a look at several soaring bald eagles.
Who says there’s nothing interesting in Iowa? The bald eagle would beg to differ – they gather here in droves during the winter. The town rolls out the welcome mat with the Dubuque Bald Eagle Watch. The January festival includes a bald eagle watch where viewers are provided spotting scopes to look at eagles on nearby Lock & Dam #11. The dam keeps part of the river from freezing, providing eagles with their own ice fishing hole.
Eagles commonly winter near locks and dams on the Mighty Mississippi, and can be seen most frequently in January and February. The National Eagle Center in Wabash is one of the best home bases along the river for seeing eagles on America’s largest river. The center provides bus rides to prime viewing areas, with tours of wintering bald eagles occurring in late February.
Eagle Fest in East Texas is perfect for eagle watchers who don’t want to brave the cold. The January festival consists of barge tours which venture out to spot eagles in neighboring lakes, where they hunt for their favorite meal of bass. Eagle sightings are common enough in Emory for the Texas Legislature to declare the area the Eagle Capital of Texas in 1995. Texans are mighty proud, but even they have to admit their state symbol the mockingbird doesn’t even compare to the magnificent bald eagle.
North Platte River, Nebraska
Nebraska may not seem like an ideal winter escape for most people, but bald eagles love it. Nearly one thousand of the birds are counted during midwinter surveys along the Platte River. Your best strategy to spot one of the birds is to visit a reservoir such as the Sutherland Reservoir near North Platte, which contains open water with a little bit of ice. The reservoir provides ideal conditions for spotting eagles prowling for waterfowl, shads, and carp.
Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts
The state that gave birth to the American Revolution would be incomplete without a few of the nation’s iconic birds. Quabbin Reservoir is one of the best places in the Northeast to see the raptors, when they migrate south from Canada and northern New England. About 50 winged visitors will stay and feed around the reservoir before returning to their nesting grounds in early spring. Experts recommend the Enfield Lookout or Winsor Dam as the best locations to spot a bald eagle.
Two bald eagles recently settled near New York City for the first time in a hundred years, but most aren’t likely to be comfortable in Manhattan anytime soon. However, drive less than two hours from the bustling metropolis, and you can see eagles out in force near Hawley, Pennsylvania. The Delaware Highlands Conservancy organizes tours to scout for wild eagles along the nearby Upper Delaware, so you’ll have a an expert to help to locate a baldie.
Upper Skagit River, Washington
The Upper Skagit River in Washington’s Cascade foothills is a favorite winter getaway for bald eagles, and just a short drive away from Seattle. Here eagles congregate on tree branches along the water, where its not uncommon to spot 100 or more simply by floating down the river. The area also hosts the Skagit Eagle Festival, a month-long celebration in January centered around keeping an eye out for the majestic bird.
Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Illinois once once devoid of eagles, but now contains more than any other continental state during the winter. In Starved Rock State Park, they can be seen roosting along the trees, and if you’re lucky, swooping over the water to snag fish from the cold waters. Every winter weekend in late December through early March sees the arrival of several hundred eagle watchers to catch a glimpse of the bird’s splendor. If the temperature is cold enough to freeze, the birds will congregate near open water by the dams, offering you an even better chance at an eagle sighting.
Eagle viewing tips
Remember, when scoping out bald eagles, give them plenty of space and plenty of respect. This is the symbol of the greatest nation on earth, after all. Stay in your car when observing them, or utilize blinds to stay clear of the bird’s view. Avoid making loud noises which can scare the eagles and cause them to expend energy unnecessarily.
Keep your eyes peeled, scanning tree lines and high in the sky for the distinct outline of an eagle. Early in the morning and late afternoon, when eagles are most active, are your best windows for seeing one.
A little etiquette and patience will go a long way towards making sure you have a chance to spot at a wild bald eagle. One look, and you’ll be amazed at why Ben Franklin ever thought the turkey would be a better national symbol.