Once on the Endangered Species List, the American Bald Eagle has rebounded and is once again flourishing in the United States. In Illinois the peak season to catch glimpses of eagles is late December through early March. Since eagles eat primarily fish, they migrate south as rivers freeze, searching for free-flowing water. Dams along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers are common areas to spot them. Here are some of the best places in Illinois for eagle watching:
Rock Island Arsenal
The Mississippi River Visitor Center on Arsenal Island, located between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa, offers free eagle watching and Clock Tower tours on select Saturdays. 2016 dates are January 2, 16, 23, 30 and February 6. Reservations are required, as space is limited.
The visitor center itself, which has large windows overlooking Illinois Locks and Dam 15, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 am. to 5 p.m.
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Starved Rock State Park
The Illinois Waterway Visitor Center, located at the Starved Rock Lock & Dam in Utica is the best place in the area to observe the eagles. Starved Rock State Park celebrates an eagle watching weekend at the end of January, but to avoid crowds, go another weekend or better yet, on a weekday. http://www.starvedrocklodge.com/activity/eagle-watching/
The stretch of the Great River Road near Alton from where the Illinois River meets the Mississippi to where the Missouri River meets the Mississippi is known as the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. There are several areas along this stretch to view eagles, including the Melvin Price Locks and Dam, Pere Marquette State Park, and at the Audubon Center at Riverlands just across Alton’s Clark Bridge on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.
The colder the winter, the better the chances of seeing eagles congregated near river areas that haven’t frozen over. Some of the sites listed above include an “eagle report” updated daily with numbers of eagles spotted in the area. Bundle up, grab your binoculars and telephoto camera, and have fun searching for America’s national bird.
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