When's the Best Time to See Eagles?
It's cold outside and that can mean only one thing: the American Bald Eagles have returned to the Great Rivers & Routes region!
Every year, hundreds of bald eagles find the wooded and water filled lakes and rivers in Madison, Calhoun, Jersey, Macoupin, Greene and Montgomery counties a great place to spend the winter. And that means it's a great place to watch for eagles from January through the first of March.
This week's eagle counts (Feb. 23, 2023):
EAGLES MIGRATE TO THE GREAT RIVERS & ROUTES REGION IN LATE DECEMBER EACH YEAR
Eagle Watching on the Great River Road (Pere Marquette State Park to Alton, Illinois)
Look up in the trees along the bluff to find them! Or check out the eagles sitting on ice in the Mississippi River! Eagles are more likely to be active in the early morning hours or at dusk.
Eagle Watching at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam (Alton, Illinois)
Eagles spotted: N/A
Traveling along Illinois Rte. 143, between Rte. 3 and the Clark Bridge, eagles enjoy perching in the trees near the power plant as they scope out their next meal. Make a quick stop at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam and National Great Rivers Museum to view the eagles there. Water churning through the locks & dam makes fishing easy on the eagles and viewing easy for the visitor.
Eagle Watching at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (The Audubon Center at Riverlands)
Trumpeter Swan count: 400 Swans at the center. Many of the swans have relocated to Swan Lake at Two Rivers Sanctuary in Calhoun County. 2,000 swans have been reported at that location.
Located just across the Clark Bridge, the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary has been designated as an important birding area by the National Audubon Society. It is a great place for spotting eagles, as well as other migrating waterfowl, such as swans and pelicans. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rivers Project Office offers indoor spotting scopes, perfect for viewing eagles in Ellis Bay.
Eagle Watching in Grafton, Illinois
Keep an eye on the bluffs as you make your way from Alton to Grafton. Keep your eye on the open waters and clearings made by tows pushing through the ice.
Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway (Between Alton and Grafton)
3 to 4 eagles have been spotted on the drive between Alton and Grafton.
Eagle Watching at Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge (Brussels, Illinois)
Eagle Count: 3
Near the lower end of Swan Lake where it connects to the Illinois River, there have been a group of eagles spotted on a regular basis. This is also where 2,000 Trumpeter Swans have relocated from the Riverlands Sanctuary in West Alton.
Eagle Watching at Pere Marquette State Park (Grafton, Illinois)
Eagle Count: 20
Eagles are in the area, park officials report! Look closely in the trees along the river to spot the white heads of adults or the darker colored juveniles.
Take the drive along the scenic byway, Illinois Route 100, from Alton to Grafton. Stop in the Pere Marquette Visitor Center or Pere Marquette Lodge & Conference Center to ask about some good places to view eagles surrounding the park. Better yet, sign-up to take a free guided tour!
Horseshoe Lake State Park: N/A
Eagle Watching at Brussels Ferry
Eagle Count: 3
Eagles are active near the Brussels Ferry, where they enjoy perching in the tall cottonwood trees lining the river bank.
How do you know it's an eagle?
Look for their white heads, which are sometimes referred to as "baseballs." A large bird with a white head is sure to be an eagle soaring. You may also see immature eagles whose head and feathers have not quite turned white. Another good tip is to look to the ice. The eagles love to float down the river on the ice. With the Mississippi and Illinois rivers so icy, barges pushing down the river yielding open waters are also perfect for fishing!
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