Did I See a Bald Eagle?

As the winter season approaches, bald eagles are moving into Missouri from breeding areas to our north. A few overwintering eagles move in by mid-fall, but most arrive here in December. The Natural Events Calendar for Dec. 5 notes “Bald eagles arriving in northern Missouri; view them at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.”

Primarily fish eaters, the majestic birds move south as their northern fishing waters freeze over. Some will also follow migrating flocks of waterfowl, feeding on the ducks and geese that die during migration. Prime viewing spots in Missouri are our many large lakes and rivers. During the coldest winter periods, bald eagles will congregate below dams where water movement prevents ice from forming and fish moving through open gates may be stunned and easily caught.

The bald eagle is a real success story because the species’ numbers have greatly rebounded following the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972. Although formerly a rare sight in Missouri, we now have thousands of overwintering eagles in the state each year and more than 175 active nests each spring. Because bald eagles will also scavenge for food, they are being seen more frequently on Missouri’s roadways, where road-killed animals provide an easy food source. I have had several contacts from Missourians observing these birds along roadways. Don’t be surprised if you round a corner on a Missouri highway one day and find scavenging bald eagles, like the vultures that you are accustomed to seeing recycling road-killed animals.

To learn more about bald eagles and to see them in the wild, there is a number of Eagle Days events scheduled each year in Missouri. Staff and volunteers are on hand at each event to help make each Eagle Days a great winter outing for Missourians with cabin fever.

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