MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Where eagles land

Near winter gathering spots, towns capitalize on the birds' popularity by throwing festivals.

An eagle looks for fish at the lock and dam in Genoa, Wis.

© Beth Gauper

On the Mississippi, an eagle trolls for fish in the waters below the dam in Genoa, Wis.

Eagles don't really have lovable personalities. But, man, are they fun to watch.

Those haughty pale eyes, that 6-foot wing span, those wicked talons and the flesh-shredding beak eagles are just plain cool.

Everything about them is larger than life, right down to their nests, which are so big and sturdy that bears sometimes climb into them to hibernate.

To watch an eagle wheeling and dipping through the air is treat enough. It's even more of a thrill to see an airborne food fight or the tandem plummet of mating eagles.

As eagle populations have increased, it's no longer uncommon to spot a bald eagle. But that's only increased the number of tourists who want to do so.

In winter, the birds gather along the Mississippi, Wisconsin and Illinois rivers, wherever there's open water. Viewing is good there, so many towns sponsor annual eagle-watching weekends.

Here's a calendar of festivals in 2015.

For tips on finding the birds yourself, see Looking for bald eagles.

For more about winter eagle-watching, see Open sesame on the sloughs.

For more Wabasha and Reads Landing, Minn., where many wintering eagles congregate, and the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, which has five resident eagles, see All eyes on Wabasha.

Trip Tips: Eagle-watching festivals and tours in the Upper Midwest

Nov. 22, Bald Eagle and Tundra Swan Viewing Field Trip from Wabasha, Minn. The National Eagle Centers hosts a four-hour motorcoach tour to viewing locations, $35.

January, Bald Eagle Watch in Clinton, Iowa. It features live-eagle and nature programs at Clinton Community College and free bus service to Lock & Dam 13 in Fulton, Ill.

January, Eagle-Watch/Clock Tower Tours of the Mississippi River Visitors Center in Rock Island, Ill. The center is on Lock & Dam 15. To reserve one of the free tours, 9-10:30 a.m. or 12:30-2 p.m., call 309-794-5338.

A bald eagle sits in a tree.

© Beth Gauper

An eagle surveys a river in Wisconsin.

Jan. 9-11, Bald Eagle Days in Rock Island, Ill. At the Quad Cities Conservation Alliance Expo Center, there's an environmental fair, with flying demonstrations by eagles, hawks and owls and many other events. Admission. 

January to March, Bald Eagle Viewing Van Tours from Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center in Thomson, Ill., on the Mississippi River just south of Savanna.

Destinations vary. They're free, but space is limited, so call 815-273-2732 to reserve a spot. Sponsored by Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge.

January and February, Bald Eagle Bus Tours from Galena, Ill. The four-hour tours are hosted by the Eagle Nature Foundation, $70, $50 for children under 17 ($65-$45 if bought by Dec. 31).

The tours visit five eagle communities between Dubuque and Green Island, just south of Bellevue and typically see between 30 and 350 eagles.

Jan. 16-17, Bald Eagle Watching Days in Prairie du Sac, Wis. It features guided bus tours, Eagles in Wisconsin and Birds of Prey programs and a radio-tracking demonstration.

At 10 a.m. Saturdays, the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council hosts eagle-watching bus tours, $5. To reserve, call 800-683-2453.

January, Bald Eagle Watch in Dubuque, Iowa.  Live-eagle programs and free trolley rides from the Grand River Center downtown to the National Mississippi River Museum and Lock & Dam 11.

Jan. 17-18, Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Keokuk, Iowa. There's live-eagle presentations, Native American activities, demonstrations and viewing on the river.

January, Eagle-Watch/Clock Tower Tours of the Mississippi River Visitors Center in Rock Island, Ill. The center is on Lock & Dam 15. To reserve one of the free tours, 9-10:30 a.m. or 12:30-2 p.m., call 309-794-5338.

Jan. 24, Golden Eagle Viewing Field Trip from Wabasha, Minn. The National Eagle Center hosts a four-hour motorcoach tour to viewing locations, $35.

January, Bald Eagle Watch in Muscatine, Iowa. Live-eagle programs and environmental exhibits are at Pearl City Station in Riverside Park and outdoor viewing there and at Lock & Dam 16.

The National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

© Beth Gauper

The National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn., is right on the Mississippi River.

January, Eagle Watch Weekend around Utica, Ill. The Illinois Audubon Society sponsors activities at Starved Rock Lodge, the Starved Rock State Park visitors center and, across the river, the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center.

Trolleys connect the three venues. For more about the area, see Marvels of Starved Rock.

January, Bald Eagle Days in Cassville, Wis. There are raptor programs throughout the day. In the morning, volunteers man spotting scopes in Riverside Park.

February, Eagle-Watch/Clock Tower Tours of the Mississippi River Visitors Center in Rock Island, Ill. The center is on Lock & Dam 15. To reserve one of the free tours, 9-10:30 a.m. or 12:30-2 p.m., call 309-794-5338.

Feb. 7, Golden Eagle Viewing Field Trip from Wabasha, Minn. The National Eagle Center hosts a four-hour motorcoach tour to viewing locations, $35.

Feb. 28, Bald Eagle Appreciation Day in Prairie du Chien, Wis., and Effigy Mounds National Monument near Marquette, Iowa. Birding experts give programs and lead mini field trips, depending on weather. 

Feb. 28, Bald Eagle Viewing Field Trip from Wabasha, Minn. The National Eagle Centers hosts a four-hour motorcoach tour to viewing locations, $35.

March 7, Bald Eagle Watching Day in Ferryville, Wis. There are live-eagle programs at the community center and watching from River Park Observation Deck on the Mississippi in this town between La Crosse and Prairie du Chien.

Weekends in March, Soar With the Eagles festival in Wabasha, Minn. The National Eagle Center hosts special events, programs and speakers during spring migrations.

The center, which has five resident eagles, is open year-round, with special programs at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. Admission is $8, $5 for children 4-17.


Last updated on October 7, 2014

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