An adult bald eagle snatches a fish from the Mississippi River near Quincy. Photos by Chris Young.

Eagles put on winter air show

January 30, 2014 at 09:52 AM

If you are looking for a positive spin on this winter’s series of cold snaps you only have to look up.

Anywhere there is open water this winter you have a chance to see eagles.

After making a catch, a bald eagle turns and head for the shoreline to get away from other eagles that might try to steal its fish.

The American bald eagle is present this winter in large numbers thanks to cold conditions that tend to concentrate the birds in areas where water remains open for fishing.

The Illinois Audubon Society manages the annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey, covering primarily the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

Results are still coming in from counters who cover a specific route each year, but already eagle totals are ahead of last year.

“With 50 percent reporting for 2014, we have already exceeded the 2013 total,” said Tom Clay, executive director of the Illinois Audubon Society. “We hope to have all 2014 survey results by Feb. 14.”

So far, 2,730 eagles have been reported. Last winter, 2,325 were counted.

The peak year was 2008, with 4,292 eagles surveyed. 1994 had the lowest number with 885.

Illinois Audubon has mid-winter count numbers back to 1992 when counters saw 2,024.

A bald eagle gets set to drop down on an unsuspecting fish.

As bald eagle numbers have recovered, festivals have sprung up at popular eagle-watching sites.

Illinois Audubon’s Eagle Watch Weekend, held last weekend at Starved Rock State Park celebrated its 17th year.

Eagle watchers scan the skies from the balcony of the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center across from Starved Rock State Park.

Eagle watching opportunities remain, either at festivals or on your own.

The annual Eagle Day Festival will be held from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 8 at Dickson Mounds Museum, downtown Lewistown, the Havana riverfront and the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge. Activities include art and poetry competitions, crafts for kids, live raptor programs and bird watching.

The auto tour at the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge north of Havana will be open from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

In the Alton area, Eagle Watch Sundays will be held at the Audubon Center at Riverlands, 201 Riverlands Way, West Alton on Sunday and on Feb. 9. A live raptor will be on hand for “Raptor Saturdays,” Saturday and Feb. 8. Hours for both are 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Contact: (636) 899-0900 or

Pere Marquette State Park near Grafton has ongoing eagle auto tours through March 7. Participants will be taken on an auto tour of sites along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers where eagles congregate during winter.

All programs begin at the Pere Marquette Visitor Center at 8:30 a.m. Reservations are required at (618) 786-3323. For a brochure, visit:

Chris Young can be reached at 341-8487 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

An eagle scans the Illinois River from Starved Rock.