Where eagles land

Near winter gathering spots, towns capitalize on the birds' popularity by throwing festivals.

An eagle looks for fish at the lock and dam in Genoa, Wis.
On the Mississippi, an eagle trolls for fish in the waters below the dam in Genoa, Wis.

Eagles don't really have lovable personalities. But, man, are they fun to watch.

Those haughty pale eyes, that 6-foot wing span, those wicked talons and the flesh-shredding beak — eagles are just plain cool.

Everything about them is larger than life, right down to their nests, which are so big and sturdy that bears sometimes climb into them to hibernate.

To watch an eagle wheeling and dipping through the air is treat enough. It's even more of a thrill to see an airborne food fight or the tandem plummet of mating eagles.

As eagle populations have increased, it's no longer uncommon to spot a bald eagle. But that's only increased the number of tourists who want to do so.

In winter, the birds gather along the Mississippi, Wisconsin and Illinois rivers, wherever there's open water. Viewing is good there, so many towns sponsor annual eagle-watching weekends.

Here's a calendar of events in 2023.

For tips on finding the birds yourself, see Looking for bald eagles.

For more about winter eagle-watching, see Open sesame on the sloughs.

For more Wabasha and Reads Landing, Minn., where many wintering eagles congregate, and the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, which has five resident eagles, see All eyes on Wabasha.

Trip Tips: Eagle-watching festivals and tours in the Upper Midwest

January and February, Eagle-watching bus tours in Sauk City/Prairie du Sac, Wis. Ferry Bluff Eagle Council volunteers guide these hourlong tours at 10 a.m. Saturdays , $5 (free during Eagle Days). Reserve as early as possible.

January-mid-February, Eagle-watching trolley tours near Utica, Ill., from Starved Rock Lodge on the Illinois River. Tours are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and include lunch.

A bald eagle sits in a tree.
An eagle surveys a river in Wisconsin.

Jan. 6-8, Bald Eagle Days in Rock Island, Ill. At the Quad Cities Conservation Alliance Expo Center, there's an environmental fair, with flying demonstrations by eagles, hawks and owls and many other events. Admission.

Jan. 12 and 19, Feb. 1, 3, 6-7, 14, 16 and 21-24 and March 2 and 9, Eagle Watching in Pere Marquette State Park near Grafton, Ill. The park offers programs, a video presentation and a driving tour of eagle-watching locations near the park. Reservations required.

In addition, Jan. 22 is the indoor Bald Eagle Festival at the Pere Marquette Lodge, with music and Masters of the Sky raptor shows by the World Bird Sanctuary.

Jan. 14 and 28, Eagle-Watch/Clock Tower Tours of the Mississippi River Visitors Center in Rock Island, Ill. The center is on the western end of Arsenal Island at Lock & Dam 15. To reserve one of the 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. free tours, call 309-794-5338.

Jan. 14-15, Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac, Wis. There will be live birds of prey shows, bus tours, and eagle viewing at overlooks staffed with volunteers.

Jan. 21, In Search of Eagles in northeast Illinois. At the McHenry, Algonquin and Carpentersville dams along the Fox River in McHenry County, naturalists and park rangers will help visitors search for eagles with scopes and binoculars. There will also be activities for children. It's sponsored by Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, McHenry County Audubon and McHenry County Conservation District.

Jan. 21, Bald Eagle Watch in Fulton, Ill., and Clinton, Iowa. It features eagle-viewing from Lock & Dam 13 in Fulton and live raptor and other programs across the Mississippi River in Clinton.

Jan. 21, Bald Eagle Watch in Muscatine, Iowa. It features a live-raptor program and eagle-viewing from Lock & Dam 16.

Jan. 21-22, Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Keokuk, Iowa. There's live-eagle presentations, Native American activities, demonstrations and viewing on the river.

Jan. 28-29, Eagle Watch Weekend around Ottawa, Ill. The Illinois Audubon Society sponsors activities at Starved Rock Lodge, the Starved Rock State Park visitors center and, across the river, the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center.

For more about the area, see Marvels of Starved Rock.

Feb. 4, Eagle-Watch/Clock Tower Tours of the Mississippi River Visitors Center in Rock Island, Ill. The center is on Lock & Dam 15. To reserve one of the 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. free tours, call 309-794-5338.

The National Eagle Center in Wabasha.
The National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn., is right on the Mississippi River.

Feb. 18, Eagle Adventure Bus Tour from Horicon Marsh near Horicon, Wis. From the Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center, this guided tour will look for bald eagles. Register in advance; $15.

Late February, Bald Eagle Appreciation Day in Prairie du Chien, Wis., and Effigy Mounds National Monument near Marquette, Iowa. There will be live-eagle and raptor programs, children's activities and viewing with birding experts.

March 4 and April 8, Bald Eagle Viewing Field Trip from Wabasha, Minn. The National Eagle Center hosts a four-hour motorcoach tour to viewing locations, $60.

The tours visit five eagle communities between Dubuque and Green Island, just south of Bellevue and typically see between 30 and 350 eagles.

March 4, Bald Eagle Watching Day in Ferryville, Wis. There are live-eagle programs at the community center and watching from River Park Observation Deck on the Mississippi in this town between La Crosse and Prairie du Chien.

March 31-April 2, Soar With Eagles: Spring Hatch festival in Wabasha, Minn. The National Eagle Center offers flying bird shows, exhibits and activities.

The center, which has five resident eagles, is open year-round, with special programs at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. Admission is $12, $10 for children 4-16.

June-August, Raptor Tours at the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, Wis. In summer, this rehabilitation center in northeast Wisconsin offers hourlong outdoors tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and some Mondays and Saturdays.

Cost is $12, $8 for children 12 and under. Reserve in advance.

Last updated on January 25, 2022

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