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An adult bald eagle keeps its head straight and level as it banks into a turn near Moline.
By Chris Young | STAFF
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A sight for soar eyes
By Chris Young

Winter is a great time to view bald eagles in Illinois, especially along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

In fact, Illinois is home to the largest concentration of eagles in the lower 48 states during the winter months.

That's when eagles migrate south in search of food and spend the days catching fish, often in the vicinity of locks and dams.

Eagle-watching is best when the weather is at its most frigid. When lakes and rivers freeze, eagles congregate around dams where churning water stays free of ice, and stunned fish that pass through the gates are easy-pickings.

People flock to places where eagles gather, but it's important to watch with care. Although eagles have been removed from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Species, they still enjoy special protection by law.

It is important that people not harass eagles and intentionally cause them to fly off their perches.

Eagles burn a lot of energy staying warm in winter and forcing them to fly around only burns more.

Also, eagles that become habituated to people won't seem very wild or majestic any longer. And no one wants to see our nation's symbol begging for food.

One of the best places to watch eagles without disturbing them is the Starved Rock Lock and Dam across the river from Starved Rock State Park near Utica.

The Illinois Waterway Visitor Center located adjacent to the lock contains a museum of navigation on the river and also has a viewing balcony that overlooks the river.

Eagles can be viewed with spotting scopes or binoculars without bothering them.

Pere Marquette State Park near Grafton hosts popular eagle-watching auto tours, and many other communities hold eagle-watching events in January and early February.

Many of the photos for this article were taken from the car, which makes an effective blind. Roll down the window part way to provide a steady platform for the camera and turn off the motor if possible.

Eagles and other wildlife are accustomed to cars and don't see them as a threat as long as the passengers stay in or near the vehicle. A side benefit is that it's warmer inside the car than out.

Enjoy the arrival of American bald eagles along the state's rivers this winter, and help keep them safe and wild at the same time.


Story published Friday, January 9, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 1 )

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