Watching Us Is As Easy As 1-2-3!

Eagle watching is a great activity for everyone and can be very rewarding. As the American Bald Eagles’ primary feeding areas in Canada and Alaska begin to freeze, the birds fly south to find food. The Illinois River is a popular wintering area for bald eagles because of abundant food and open water, particularly at locks and dams and power plants that keep the river from freezing. These provide the eagles with an area to hunt their primary food source-fish. Some dams tend to stun fish such as gizzard shad when they swim through the gates. This creates an easy-to-catch source of food for eagles.

During the winter, bald eagles are under pressure to consume enough food and expend as little energy as possible in order to maintain body heat. If fishermen, bird watchers or boaters get too close to the eagles, the birds will waste valuable energy flying away.

1. To avoid disturbing eagles, do not get any closer than 300 yards from a perched eagle. Stay on the opposite side of the river to allow them a peaceful refuge. Since over 70 percent of the eagle’s feeding occurs during the early morning, avoid visiting areas that eagles rely on for food before 9 a.m. That will help to allow the eagle enough time to adequately feed before human activity disrupts their foraging.

2. Warm clothing is recommended for eagle watching because the colder the weather, the better the opportunity to view eagles.

3. Be certain that the bird is actually an eagle, then to determine the kind of eagle and its age. Although the white head and tail of an adult bald eagle make it unmistakable, a juvenile eagle undergoes a series of plumage changes on it’s way to maturity. Juvenile eagles exhibit a brownish color and do not acquire the white head and tail until they reach four or five years of age. To further complicate matters, a distant soaring turkey vulture or osprey can be mistaken for an eagle. Size is the most obvious field mark of eagles, for an eagle is significantly larger than any hawk or osprey.

For more information on eagle watching:

US Army Corps of Engineers
Illinois Waterway Visitor Center
950 N. 27th Road
Ottawa, IL 61350

The Illinois Audubon Society
P.O. Box 2418
Danville, IL 61834-2418