Eagle Watching

eagle-8914Eagle 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. Don’t miss this amazing time of year!  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.

The Annual Eagle Watch Weekend is always in January.  Check back for the 2015 dates!   Enjoy live Bald Eagle viewing from the top of Starved Rock. Live Birds of Prey shows and various family activities at the Starved Rock Lodge and at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center.  The Lodge offers Eagle Trolley Tours in January and February of every year.  CLICK HERE for more details.

Generally, eagles follow seasonal food supplies; as lakes and streams freeze over, bald eagles must go south to find open, fresh water.  Adult bald eagles do not migrate with juveniles.  Newly fledged eagles migrate before their parents; no one knows how young birds know when and where to travel.  Some fledgling eagles wander in a wide range their first few years.  Some return to their origin, while others do not.

Adult bald eagles begin fall migration when the northern lakes and rivers freeze over.  Depending on the location, they usually migrate to the coast or large rivers near dams, where the water remains open.  Wind currents play a large roll in determining their flight pattern.

Here in Illinois, the eagles start to arrive in December.  They are scatter up and down the Illinois River feeding.  When the temperatures get cold enough to freeze the lake waters and then the river waters, the eagles will flock to the dam to feed on open water.  This is when the numbers at Starved Rock are the largest.  The colder – the better!

Remember that bald eagles should remain undisturbed, and it is important that they conserve energy during the winter months.  

The following tips for eagle viewing will help you to have the best possible experience:

  • Scan the tree line for eagles that are perched in the tree tops.
  • Look overhead for eagles soaring high in the sky.
  • Check ice floes or river islands for eagles sunning themselves or enjoying a meal.
  • Arrive early (7 am – 9 am) or stay late (4 pm – 5 pm), when eagles are most active.
  • Be patient – the key to successful viewing is patience.

eaglefavoriteWinter is the best time to view eagles, so we suggest these safety and comfort tips:

  • Dress warmly and in layers: boots, hats and gloves are strongly recommended.
  • Bring along a hot beverage.
  • Pull your vehicle completely off the road and park ONLY in designated areas.
  • Turn on your car heater for short periods of time.
For the safest and least intrusive bald eagle viewing, we recommend the following Eagle Etiquette:
  • Remain in or immediately next to your vehicle, and don’t approach eagles closer than a quarter mile. Avoid roosting areas.
  • Refrain from loud noises: honking horns, door slamming, radios playing, yelling, etc.
  • Keep pets at home.
  • Use binoculars or spotting scopes instead of trying to get a little closer.
  • Don’t do anything to try to make the bird fly.
  • Respect private property and avoid restricted areas.


General Facts About Bald Eagles

  • June 28, 2007 – The Department of Interior took the American bald eagle off the endangered species list. The removal of the bald eagle from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
  • The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a member of the sea and fish eagle group.
  • Color – Both male and female adult bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast; a white head, neck, and tail; and yellow feet and bill.
  • Juvenile bald eagles are a mixture of brown and white. They reach full maturity in four to five years.
  • Size – The female bald eagle is 35 to 37 inches, slightly larger than the male.
  • Wingspan ranges from 72 to 90 inches.
  • Bald eagles can fly to an altitude of 10,000 feet. During level flight, they can achieve speeds of about 30 to 35 mph.
  • Bald eagles weigh from ten to fourteen pounds.
  • Eagle bones are light, because they are hollow.
  • The beak, talons, and feathers are made of keratin.
  • Bald eagles have 7,000 feathers.
  • Longevity – Wild bald eagles may live as long as thirty years.
  • Bald eagles sit at the top of the food chain
  • Lifting power is about 4 pounds.
  • Diet – Mainly fish, but they will take advantage of carrion (dead and decaying flesh).
  • The bald eagle is a strong swimmer, but if the water is very cold, it may be overcome by hypothermia.
  • Hunting area varies from 1,700 to 10,000 acres. Home ranges are smaller where food is present in great quantity.
  • All eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight.
  • Nests are built in large trees near rivers or coasts.
  • An eagle reaches sexual maturity at around four or five years of age.
  • Fidelity – Once paired, bald eagles remain together until one dies.
  • Bald eagles lay from one to three eggs.
  • The 35 days of incubation duties are shared by both male and female.
  • Nesting cycle – about 20 weeks
  • Today, there are an estimated 9,789 breeding pairs of bald eagles.
  • Eagles molt in patches, taking almost half a year to replace feathers, starting with the head and working downward.
  • Birds puff up their feathers for various reasons. They puff them up while preening; to insulate themselves to changing temperatures; when they’re relaxed; to make themselves appear larger when threatened; and when they’re ill.
  • The bald eagle became the National emblem in 1782 when the great seal of the United States was adopted.
  • Causes of death – Fatal gun shot wounds, electrocution, poisoning, collisions with vehicles, and starvation.