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Tips for Watching Bald Eagles

Updated: Monday, February 10 2014, 08:16 PM CST

(CBS2/FOX28) -  Half the tree shakes as a giant Bald Eagle launches
itself into the blue sky and immediately dives to the surface of the river and
snags a fish in its razor sharp talons.  It could be the wilds of Alaska
or Montana, but it’s actually just downstream from Cedar Rapids near a bar
called The Shack.  Sit here along the Old River Road and you’ll think
you’re watching a National Geographic special on Mother Nature’s big
screen.  You can hear the giant raptors screeching at each other and some
trees along the Cedar River are dotted with dozens of the big birds.


Mary Reinhart can hardly
contain her excitement.  Poised in the passenger seat of her car with a
Cannon camera and a telephoto lens she insists she’s only an “amateur” wildlife
photographer, but on this day she’s taking some professional quality
shots.  Nearly 100 Bald Eagles fill the sky and trees within range of her
camera and she is enjoying the view, “ There are a lot this year, it’s
amazing.  The eagles aren’t here very often it’s really a gift to be able
to come right here in Cedar Rapids and see this without having to travel miles
and miles.  “


The gift is even bigger this
year because of the conditions most of us hate.  Bald Eagles only migrate
as far south as they absolutely have to in order to find open water and their
favorite food, fish.  They can easily trap warm air under their thick
layers of feathers and their feet contain few nerve endings so the cold really
doesn’t bother them. But, because northern rivers are frozen solid,  more
eagles are in the corridor.  On Thursday afternoon they drew quite a crowd
of people along the shore.  Some  eagles soared above the water,
while others left their roosting sites just long enough to try to steal a fish
from a younger eagle.  The head and tail feathers on American Bald Eagles
don’t turn white until the raptors reach four or five years of age.  One
youngster, still in his brown and caramel colored coating lands in a tree
barely 30 feet above his admirers.  The people watch as he stands on the
tail of a small fish and devours the rest.


Joe Wilkinson with the Iowa
DNR says it’s maybe one of the few bright spots in an otherwise brutal
winter.  Annual surveys indicate it will be a record year with nearly
5,000  in Iowa, “ The colder the weather the more it’s going to
concentrate the eagles.  You’re going to find most of them near the open
water .. they’re looking for the fish rolling over the dams that are stunned or
have died.  The more open water they can find, the more eagles you’re
going to find. ”


TIPS:  Wilkinson reminds
us there is some eagle watching etiquette all of us should try to practice to
protect Bald Eagles.  He suggests the best place to view the eagles or
take pictures is actually from inside your car or truck.  Eagles don’t
seem to be spooked much by vehicles, but sometimes fly away when people get out
of their cars.  That means the majestic birds are expending extra energy
that endangers them during such frigid temperatures.  He says a long-range
camera lens or a good pair of binoculars will help big bird watchers see the
eagles in their natural surroundings.  A reminder you can also see eagles
in a few more weeks without ever leaving the warmth of your home.  The
Decorah Eagle Cam is now online again and the pair of Bald Eagles nesting there
should return soon to prepare to lay eggs and raise more eaglets.


LOCATIONS:  To see Bald
Eagles there are several locations you might try.  Often you will see
eagles in the trees on the west end of the First Avenue Bridge in Cedar Rapids,
it depends on whether there is open water along the shore where the birds can
fish.  The spillway along Old River Road near The Shack Tavern is another
area of open water where you can often find eagles feeding early in the morning
and a few hours before sundown.  Sac and Fox Trail City Park is on the
opposite shore and also provides limited parking for eagle viewing.  If
you don’t mind taking a drive, large numbers of eagles are now being reported
on the Mississippi River near the lock and dam between Clinton, Iowa and
Fulton, Illinois and you can almost always find Bald Eagles during the winter
months just downriver from the Interstate-280 Bridge in Davenport.   

Tips for Watching Bald Eagles

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