MADISON — Bald eagle watching events kick off in Wisconsin in January and run into March as Wisconsin’s growing number of bald eagles – 2015 nest surveys recently revealed a record high population — boost opportunities to see these majestic birds and spurs more communities to add or expand events.
“The increase in bald eagle populations are leading to more of these events and potentially better viewing, depending on conditions,” says Rich Staffen, a Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist and raptor specialist.
The events provide more opportunities to learn about eagles and see them up close through live eagle shows, he says. Such activities also give attendees plenty to see and do if mild conditions mean that eagles are not concentrated in one spot but are spread out across the landscape.
The first in the parade of events is Bald Eagle Watching Days in Sauk Prairie, Jan. 15-16. www.ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org/bald-eagle-watching-days.html (exit DNR).
Now in its 29th year, this event features a live eagle release, live raptor shows, guided bus tours and overlooks staffed by eagle experts, as well as indoor exhibits and activities.
That same weekend, Jan. 16 and 17, the Fox River Environmental Education Alliance and partners have expanded “A Day with Eagles Along the Fox River” (exit DNR) to two days with a mix of viewing opportunities, presentations about eagles and eagle monitoring, educational programming, and a falconry presentation.
Cassville rolls out its Bald Eagle Day on Jan. 23-24,cassville.org/Birding%20Brochure.html (exit DNR) with raptor programs throughout the day and volunteers staffing spotting scopes in a park along the Mississippi River.
In February, the Prairie du Chien Bald Eagle Appreciation Days is set for Feb. 26-27 http://prairieduchien.org/?q=visitors/eagles], with new educational and environmental programs, live bald eagle and raptor programs, viewing through scopes, children’s activities and more.
In March, Ferryville hosts its Bald Eagle Day March 5www.visitferryville.com/things-do/ (exit DNR) with a live eagle and raptor show, eagle presentations, a hooting contest and eagle art created by schoolchildren.
Bald eagles from northern Wisconsin, Canada, northern Michigan and Minnesota move south as the lakes and rivers they live along freeze over during cold winters. Seeking fish, a main food source, the raptors typically congregate along open water areas below dams when rivers largely freeze over, Staffen says. They can be observed along Wisconsin’s major rivers, including the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Fox rivers, which offer the combination of open water near large blocks of forests with mature trees.
Like a lot of raptors, eagles have excellent vision and can see their prey – fish – under the water. The eagles roost in large trees at night.
The best time to look for eagles is in the morning.
“It’s their active time for feeding. Late afternoon can be good as well as they are moving back to their roosting areas,” Staffen says.
Eagle watchers will likely see adult and immature eagles congregating at the open water, and may see golden eagles as well, along the Mississippi River, Staffen says. Breeding golden eagles that migrate to the Great Lakes region are moving south from around Hudson Bay in northern Ontario and Quebec and western Canada, but the birds have been reported as regular winter residents in southwestern and central Wisconsin and neighboring states including Minnesota.
He cautions eagle watchers to take care not to disturb them. He encourages people to stay in their car unless they are at a staffed viewing site.
“Winter is a stressful time of the year for eagles because of the scarcity of food and the competition at open water sites with other eagles. They need to conserve energy to make it through the long winter.”
From the comfort of their own home, people can get their bald eagle questions answered by eagle experts on two occasions in January.
At noon on Jan. 12, 2016, DNR eagle biologists will be ready to answer your online questions during an hour-long chat. To join the chat on Jan. 12, go to DNR’s website dnr.wi.gov and click on the box on the right-hand side to enter the chat or join via DNR’s Facebook page. If you can’t join the session, review the transcript at the same link at your leisure.
At 11 a.m. Jan. 13, 2016, tune in to Wisconsin Public Radio’s Larry Meiller Showwww.wpr.org/programs/larry-meiller-show (exit DNR) to hear DNR’s Rich Staffen and John Keefe, president of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, talk about eagles and eagle watching events and field questions from callers.