The American bald eagle is perhaps the most majestic and revered of all birds of prey across North America. Chosen as a symbol of strength and pride for the United States, and honored by Native Americans for centuries, this spectacular bird is perhaps the most famous of all birds of prey.
Unlike many other birds of prey that are found throughout the world, the bald eagle is found only in North America. Bald eagles are found throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world's bald eagles live in Alaska.
There are several great locations to watch this incredible bird soar in North America. Here’s a look at some of the best spots in North America where birders and people visit to see one of the worlds most incredible bird’s and the national bird of the United States.
Chilkat River, Haines, Alaska
Alaska is well known for its influx of bald eagles during the winter, considered to be one of the most concentrated eagle hotspots in the world. The annual salmon run attracts anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 bald eagles per year in a four-mile stretch on the 48,000-acre Alaska Chilkat Eagle Preserve. Haines, Alaska—located on the north end of the preserve—is a prime viewing spot during the winter months. Tourists flock to this river in Alaska, where bald eagles collect in mid-October through February. You will find the American Bald Eagle Foundation here. And for those who won’t be able to make it during the winter months, don’t worry; eagles can be found here year-round.
Klamath Basin, California-Oregon
If you’re going to see American eagles outside of Alaska, this is one of your best shots. Klamath claims it has more wintering bald eagles than anywhere else in the lower 48 states. In January and February, as much as a thousand of the majestic birds settle down on the California-Oregon border, where they can be easily viewable from several roadways.
The bald eagles gather in Iowa in droves during the winter. The town of Dubuque rolls out the welcome mat with the “Dubuque Bald Eagle Watch”. The January festival includes a bald eagle watch where viewers are provided spotting scopes to view eagles on nearby Lock & Dam #11. This dam keeps part of the river from freezing, providing eagles with their own winter fishing hole.
Eagles commonly winter near locks and dams on the Mighty Mississippi, and can be seen most frequently in January and February. The National Eagle Center in Wabash is considered one of the best places along America’s largest river for seeing eagles. The center provides bus rides to prime viewing areas, with tours of wintering bald eagles occurring in late February.
Eagle Fest in East Texas is perfect for eagle watchers who don’t want to brave the cold. The January festival consists of barge tours which bring visitors out to spot eagles in neighboring lakes, where they frequently hunt for their favorite meals. Eagle sightings are common enough in Emory that the Texas Legislature in 1995 declared the area the Eagle Capital of Texas.
North Platte River, Nebraska
Nebraska may not seem like a great choice for a winter escape, but bald eagles love it. Nearly one thousand of the birds are counted during midwinter surveys along the Platte River. The best way to spot one of the birds is to visit a reservoir such as the Sutherland Reservoir near North Platte. The reservoir provides ideal winter conditions for spotting eagles prowling for waterfowl, shads, and carp.
Washington is one of the best nesting sites in the United States, hosting hundreds of eagles and tens of thousands of salmon by the end of the spawning season. The Upper Skagit River Watershed in Northwest Washington and Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge are prime spots to see bald eagles. These eagles can be seen in great numbers from December through March (and beyond).
Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Illinois is one of the best places in the continental states for Bald Eagles during the winter. And eagle watching at Starved Rock has become one of the most popular events of each winter season. Every year, thousands of eagles migrate to the area. They come for the fish found in the cold waters of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The birds begin arriving in late December and stay until March, so there’s plenty of time to do a little eagle watching.
Canada is also an excellent place to see the majestic bald eagle. If you head up north from Vancouver, you can check out the Squamish, Mamquam and Cheakamus rivers near Brackendale and Squamish. The surrounding environment near these rivers provides food and shelter for the eagles. In 2014, Brackendale boasted a count of more than 1,600 Bald Eagles. Brackendale and Squamish are about a 45-minute drive from Vancouver. You can find eagles from November through mid-February in the area, but the best months are December and January.
Eagle Viewing Tips
When scoping out bald eagles, it’s important to give them plenty of space and plenty of respect. You may have better luck by staying in your car or utilize blinds and buildings when observing them. Avoid making loud noises which can scare the eagles and cause them to expend energy unnecessarily. Keep your eyes peeled, scanning tree lines and high in the sky for the distinct outline of an eagle. Early in the morning and late afternoon, when eagles are most active, are your best windows for seeing one.
Remember, a little etiquette and patience will go a long way towards making sure you have a better chance of spotting the wild and majestic Bald Eagle.
References and Resources:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Bald Eagle, Smithsonian National Zoo, Wide Open Spaces, Travel Pulse
For more information on Wingspan Optics complete line of high quality bird watching binoculars and monoculars, visit: wingspanoptics.com