Back in the late 70s, bald eagles were well on their way to extinction in the lower 48 states. I remember being in Canada during that time and begging my father-in-law to interrupt his fishing to follow an eagle across the lake so I could get a photo – because I might never see one again.
Thanks to good environmental management in the years that followed, I now see bald eagles almost weekly, and there are more than 175 active nests in Missouri. Even better, during the winter, the Show-Me State is an eagle magnet as they move south following open water. Because the locks and dams on our rivers – particularly the Mississippi – and lakes keep some water open even in harsh winters (and have a tendency to stun fish – the eagles' favorite food), the big birds find Missouri the perfect winter getaway.
In fact, eagle watching is such a huge draw for residents and tourists alike, many communities around the state sponsor January Eagle Days events. Pick a date and/or region, and let the sight of our national symbol flying free make your heart soar.
Jan 5-6: Smithville, at Lake Paradise Pointe Golf Course Clubhouse in Little Platte Park, features four shows on Saturday and three on Sunday. Hours: Saturday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Jan. 5-6: Lake of the Ozarks, features displays, raptor shows presented by Dickerson Park Zoo at School of the Osage Heritage Elementary, wild eagle viewing at Willmore Lodge and Bagnell Dam Access, and live eagle programs presented by the World Bird Sanctuary at Osage National Golf Resort. Hours: Saturday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Check website for program times.)
Jan. 12: Stockton Lake's eagle census averages approximately 75 birds over the past years. Join the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Eagle Day lake tours that offer a view not seen from the roadway or campground. Register with the Corps by Jan. 11. Hours: 8 a.m.-10 a.m.
Jan. 12: Warsaw, at the Truman Visitors Center on Harry S. Truman Lake, will feature live eagle programs presented by Dickerson Park Zoo, local band Late Arrivals playing acoustic renditions of Eagles hits (and other songs), children's activity center and more. Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Jan. 19-20: St. Louis, on Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, offers a view of one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles. Enjoy live eagle education programs, warming tent events including children's activities and Lewis and Clark reenactors. Hours both days: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Jan. 20: St. Louis at Fort Bellfontaine Park features a World Bird Sanctuary eagle (and other raptors) display and observations posts along the Missouri River. A guided three-mile hike is offered and refreshments will be served. Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Jan. 19-20: Springfield at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, along Lake Springfield, offers great eagle viewing, program every hour on the hour and the indoor appearance of Phoenix – the Dickerson Park Zoo eagle. Hours: Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday, 12:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
Jan. 26: Jefferson City at the Runge Conservation Nature Center's Eagle Adventure will feature activities for all ages and four live eagle presentations. They'll have an eagle viewing site with high-powered scopes set up at the Marion Access on the Missouri River. Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Jan. 26-27: Clarksville splits their Eagle Days events between two locations: viewing at Lock and Dam 24 on the Mississippi River and programs (including a live eagle presentation from the World Bird Sanctuary) at Apple Shed Theater. Hours: Saturday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Feb. 2: Puxico, at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, honors eagles with eagle presentations from the Dickerson Park Zoo, exhibits and other activities in the Visitors Center. Spotting scopes will be focused on several active eagle nests. Hours: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
If you can't make it to one of the organized events, you don't have to miss out on the spectacle. Here's a list of the best places for winter eagle viewing on your own:
Benjamin Franklin wanted the young United States to select the wild turkey as its national symbol. As cool – and delicious – a bird as it is, spend a few hours at an Eagle Days program or winter eagle watching on your own, and you'll be grateful that the Founding Father got outvoted. Enjoy the majestic show!
Written by Barb Brueggeman