Where Eagles Fly
Grab your binoculars and head outdoors to see exactly where the bald eagle flies.
By Julie Warner, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Four decades ago, the bald eagle landed—on the Endangered Species List, that is. But as a result of persistent conservation efforts, in June of this year, the legendary American symbol was removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.
From a dangerously low 417 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states in 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife counts 9,789 breeding pairs today.
To commemorate this milestone, we've chosen three areas that offer great opportunities to witness our now flourishing feathered friend—Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River Valley and the Oregon Coast.
Of course, these are only three areas out of many, many more. This time of year, as waters begin to freeze, bald eagles flock to any spot with open water, especially rivers and reservoirs, to search for fish.
It's a great time to grab your binoculars and head outdoors, so you can see for yourself exactly where eagles fly.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed welcomes eagles, as well as millions of migratory birds, to its several thousand square miles of shoreline and forests that make it a sure stop for birds traveling the Atlantic Flyway.
Within the mix of these habitats lies Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, which hosts the largest concentration of nesting bald eagles in the eastern United States, north of Florida. Eagles court and nest at the refuge from January to April, but are common all year.
You can see them just about anywhere, just about any time of day, says Visitor Services Manager Maggie Briggs.
"It's seldom you'd come here and not see a bald eagle," she says.
Maggie suggests trying the refuge's auto trail, Wildlife Drive, which wraps around a stream separating the freshwater impoundments from the brackish Blackwater and Little Blackwater Rivers.
"It's got just about every type of habitat you would find on the refuge," she says.
Can't make the trip? Check out the Blackwater's eagle nest Web cam, which broadcasts on-line starting in December (see the Links section at www.birdsandblooms.com to access it).
For more eagles, trek south, just inland from the mouth of the Potomac River in Virginia to Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, the first refuge designated specifically for the protection of the bald eagle.
Nesting begins as early as January, so there's sure to be plenty of eagle activity throughout the winter months. Take a walk on the refuge's 3/4-mile Great Marsh Trail to reach an outlook known for its frequent eagle sightings.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, 2145 Key Wallace Dr., Cambridge MD 21613; 1-410/228-2692.
Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, 7603 High Point Rd., Lorton VA 22079; 1-703/490-4979.
For spectacular views of the iconic raptor and other
wildlife, take a cue from the more than 3 million people who have visited the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
The Upper Mississippi spans 261 miles along the eponymous river in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Not only is it the most visited refuge in the U.S., but 165 active bald eagle nests were identified there last year, along with thousands of migrating bald eagles.
On a single day in March 2007, volunteers counted more than 3,000 bald eagles, says Mary Stefanski, Winona district manager of the refuge.
Eagle viewing is best in winter and early spring, peaking in mid-to-late March as the river's ice begins to break. Mary recommends staking out a view in morning or evening, just below the locks and dams where the ice is breaking up.
"Eagles sit in trees near the river's large expanses of water, especially near a lock and dam," she says.
Or, simply pull off on one of many scenic byways along Minnesota and Wisconsin highways.
Aside from the river, the refuge represents a variety of habitats in 7,350 acres that attract a diverse wildlife population, including some 500,000 migrating waterfowl.
The Upper Mississippi isn't the only Midwestern river host to the bald eagle. Another major wintering area, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, occupies the Missouri River Basin. For unforgettable views of up to 200 bald eagles, traverse the 1-1/2 miles of Eagle Overlook trail, situated between the refuge's two largest wetlands. Winter visitors can also travel along the 10-mile auto route.
Warm waters continue through the winter at Black Dog Lake Preserve, part of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge along the Minnesota River outside the Twin Cities. A neighboring power plant generates clean, warm water, discharged into Black Dog Lake, attracting late-season waterfowl that eagles may scavenge. You can stay warm, too, on the area's Eagle Nest Van Tours, which begin in November.
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, 51 E. 4th St., Winona MN 55987; 1-507/454-7351.
Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Highway 159 S., Mound City MO 64470; 1-660/442-3187.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, 3815 American Blvd. E., Bloomington MN 55425; 1-952/854-5900. To make reservations for the Eagle Nest Van Tours, call 1-952/858-0740.
Eagles are most common on the Oregon coast in spring and summer when they're nesting and foraging on sea-birds, says Roy Lowe, manager of the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Yaquina Head in Newport, Oregon is one of the best spots to view the birds. From the area's narrow headland, non-feathered visitors can catch a glimpse of eagles without disturbing the wildlife of nearby preserves.
Less than an hour away sits another headland viewing spot, Cape Meares, in Tillamook County.
"It's just a spectacular place for observation," Roy says, noting the refuge's designated State Scenic Viewpoint.
The two fully accessible observation decks let you kill three birds with one stone (not literally, of course). Eagles can be easily viewed in surrounding coastal forests, as well as the adjacent Three Arch Rocks and Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuges.
People can also stroll down to the Cape Meares Lighthouse, open April to October, for an excellent view of the seabird colonies from which eagles forage.
Farther south, Klamath Basin boasts up to 1,000 bald eagles, one of the greatest concentrations in the lower 48 states. The breathtaking beauties travel south for the basin's large waterfowl population. They can often be seen scavenging among the area marshes and lakes. Take an auto tour along Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges in January and February to spot dozens of bald eagles.
Early risers visiting the basin will appreciate the impressive group fly-outs just before sunrise in the winter from Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Head just outside the refuge along Highway 97 to watch 100 or more eagles fly directly overhead toward the basin.
Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 2172 SE Marine Science Dr., Newport OR 97365; 1-541/867-4550.
Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges, 4009 Hill Rd., Tulelake CA 96134; 1-530/667-2231.
Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Keno-Worden Rd. and U.S. Highway 97, Klamath County OR; 1-530/667-2231.