Pull on your woolies, smear on some ChapStick, and shoulder your spotting scope. It’s that time of year again, when bald eagles infiltrate the Lower 48. All across the country people are huddling on beaches, riverbanks, and lakeshores, braving some of the coldest winter temperatures in recent memory, to glimpse the American symbol that nearly vanished 50 years ago.
Those Arctic blasts of air that make you shrink inside your winter coat like a turtle in traffic are also bolstering the number of eagles soaring overhead. In such a frigid season as this, much of the birds’ fishing waters north of the Canadian border have frozen over, forcing them south in search of food. And the colder it gets, the more eagles we’re likely to see.
How impossible it seems that this big bird, as ubiquitous as our national flag, almost vanished with the beehive hairdos and butterfly collars of the 1960s. By that time, only about 500 pairs of bald eagles were left in the Lower 48. Now recovered from the ailments of DDT, more than 7,000 pairs can be found, without counting the snowbirds arriving from the North this time of year.
What this means is no matter where you live, your chances of seeing a bald eagle this month are quite good, if you’re looking for them. All across the country, eagle hot spots, like the Klamath Basin, the Upper Mississippi River, and the Chesapeake Bay, are hosting big numbers of white-headed birds and birders.
North of New York City, in the eagle-rich Hudson Valley, where I live, this Saturday is the region’s much-celebrated Eagle Fest, a day-long event featuring eagle viewing locations along the Hudson River (complete with warming tents, hot cocoa, and knowledgeable naturalists who can help you spot eagles), birding tours, presentations, and children’s programs and activities. Festivals like this are happening throughout the continental United States.
And if you can’t visit a festival, you can still strike out on your own. Several years ago, as an online accompaniment to a feature article I wrote about the bald eagle’s recovery, I attempted to list one popular eagle hangout in every state. (Scroll down, and be advised: The caveat about the difficulties involved with creating such a list still stand, so please only consider this a starting point on your journey.)
As I mentioned in last week’s post about this year's Storm of Snowy Owls, please continue to heed a code of decorum: Keep in mind that your presence can stress the eagles and cause them to waste energy at a time when they need it most.
Here are a few helpful tips:
- Avoid making loud noises, such as yelling, slamming car doors, and honking horns
- Use binoculars or a spotting scope to view the birds from a comfortable distance
- Never attempt to make an eagle fly
- Move quickly and quietly to observation blinds, where available
- Stay inside your car at roadside viewing areas
- Bring hot chocolate and hand warmers
- Have fun.