Eagle Watching

Here they come -- convoys of birds looking for winter homes throughout the Great Rivers & Routes region, 25 miles north of St. Louis on the Mississippi River.

Hundreds of American Bald Eagles, thousands of Trumpeter Swans, ducks, geese and even the occasional Snowy Owl take up residence in the region from late December through early March.

Kick Off the Season with the Alton Eagle Ice Festival

Eagle Season kicks off the first Saturday in January with the Alton Eagle Ice Festival! This free event highlights the return of American Bald Eagles to southwest Illinois with fun for the entire family.

The celebration will takes place at FLOCK Food Truck Park, National Great Rivers Museum and the Audubon Center at Riverlands.

Geta bite to eat, see a live eagle from the World Bird Sanctuary, take an eagle-watching tour, and enjoy fun winter activities for all ages!

All events take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Here are highlights of activities available:

Ever had the opportunity to view a majestic American Bald Eagle up close?
Head to FLOCK Food Truck Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a free Eagle Meet & Greet and a chance to get your picture taken with America's national bird! The Eagle Ice Festival at FLOCK will also include food trucks (Pig On a Wing, Dippidy Donuts, & Washington Kettle Corn), drinks available from the FLOCK bar, DJ tunes, live ice carvers from IceMan Carvings, eagle-watching shuttle tours (departing from the Alton Visitor's Center), fire pits with s'mores kits for sale, face painting for kids, and more!

The National Great Rivers Museum will also be offering a number of free family-friendly activities - stop by the theater for talks by eagle experts and to watch eagle film showings. Look through spotting scopes for a chance to view an eagle nest. Make and take your own eagle craft -- an eagle head wrap!

Those who want more birding activities can stop by the Audubon Center at Riverlands across the Mississippi from Alton to view wild birds like eagles and trumpeter swans and meet a Bald Eagle on live display from the World Bird Sanctuary. Enjoy guided bird hikes, eagle crafts, interacting trail education stations and firepits with s'mores kits available!

The Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower will be open all day for tours to see American Bald Eagles from 50, 100 and 150 feet high. There will also be a Birds of Winter educational session featuring local raptors from TreeHouse Wildlife Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is required for Tower tours but the Birds of Winter exhibit is free.

The Eagle Ice Festival is a free-to-attend public event held annually in Alton and is presented by Phillips 66 Wood River.

During the Eagle Ice Festival, It's Raining Zen will be giving away FREE stone carved eagle figurines to the first 70 children 12 and under who stop by the store.

Also during Eagle Fest, Jacoby Arts Center will hold the Alton Eagle Ice Festival Art Market.
* Get your Alton Eagle-Watching shuttle tickets HERE! Eagle shuttle tours will be held between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. These 90 minute tours showcase the best spots to view American Bald Eagles all winter long. Tickets must be purchased online.

* Eagle-watching tours are by shuttle and limited to 15 occupants per tour. Tickets are $15 per person. Guided tours will be held at 11 AM and 1 PM showcasing the best places to view wintering American Bald Eagles
along the great rivers.

Facts & Information On American Bald Eagles

  • Eat fish, carrion, smaller birds and rodents
  • Soars through the sky rather than flap wings
  • There is a large amount of bald eagles in Alaska and Canada
  • Use their talons to fish or steal the kills from other animals
  • Live near coasts and lakes where there is a large amount of fish
  • Can live up to 28 years
  • Both female and male bald eagles have a blackish-brown body, white head, neck and tail, yellow feet, legs and beak and pale yellow eyes
  • Bald eagles weigh anywhere from 6.5 pounds to 14 pounds
  • Their body is usually 34 inches to 45 inches long. This is similar to that of a 6 foot man!

The population of eagles inhabiting the Rivers & Routes region in winter is one of the largest bald eagle populations in North America. Read on to learn how you can see eagles in the Rivers & Routes Region

Eagle Meet & Greet

Have you ever wanted to see a live eagle up close and personal? Well, now you can!

The Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau will be partnering with the World Bird Sanctuary again this year for the wildly popular "Eagle Meet and Greet" events. Throughout January in Alton and Grafton, visitors can meet a live American Bald Eagle. On Saturday, Jan. 6 the eagle will be at Flock Food Truck Park and on Saturday, Jan. 20 the eagle will be at the Alton Visitor Center. Learn about America's national bird, ask questions and take photos. Plus, on Jan. 6 enjoy the annual Eagle Ice Festival celebrating the amazing raptors and the birds of winter in the region.

On Saturday, Jan. 13 and Jan. 27, journey to the Grafton Visitor Center to see a live bald eagle up close and personal.

These events are held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at each location. Learn more about this beautiful bird of prey from a professional handler. Demonstrations are free.

To request a free Visitor's Guide for the Rivers & Routes region, please click here.

A woman smiles while holding a bald eagle at Eagle Fest in the Great Rivers & Routes region
Want to Meet an Eagle?

Before dawn breaks on the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, the eagles begin to soar over the Mississippi River. From late December through mid-February, every day is eagle day.

Eagle Watching

Gather your gloves, parkas, hats, boots and binoculars and spend time outside along the rivers and bluffs of the region in what becomes a bird watchers paradise each winter. Look for eagles in the trees and bluffs lining the Mississippi and Illinois rivers or on the open river waters.

Three Ways to See Eagles in the Rivers & Routes region

1. Driving along the byway from Alton to Grafton to Pere Marquette, visitors can experience several great viewing spots and see anywhere between 25 and 150 eagles on their journeys. You can also marvel at the beauty of trumpeter swans that make the Audubon Center at Riverlands their winter home. For more information on this and other scenic drives, click here.

2. Take a brisk winter hike on the historic Route 66 Chain of Rocks Bridge to discover new ways to eagle watch.

Eagle & Swan Sightings: Current Counts

Eagle Count

Eagle Counts as of Feb. 122, 2024

  • Audubon Center at Riverlands, West Alton: 0
  • National Great Rivers Museum/Melvin Price Locks & Dam: 0
  • Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, Grafton: 16
  • Great River Road between Grafton and Alton: 12
  • Pere Marquette State Park: 9
  • Grafton to Pere Marquette State Park Visitor Center: 12
  • Brussels Ferry: N/A

Trumpeter Swans

  • Audubon Center at Riverlands: 0
  • Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge: 0

For more information on eagle watching, please call the Great Rivers & Routes Visitor Center at (618) 465-6676 Friday through Sunday. Don't forget to take a break and warm up at local restaurants. And be sure to spread out your bird watching fun with an overnight stay.

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