Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bald Eagles: Now's the Time to Spot Them

Back when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, if you wanted to see Bald Eagles in the wild, you had to pack your binoculars and head up to Alaska.  The only eagles we were likely to see were in a cage at the Bronx Zoo.

With barely 400 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states, our national bird was on the verge of extinction.  The situation looked bleak for the Bald Eagle when it was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1973.

Over the past 40 years, Bald Eagles have made a spectacular comeback, now with more than 60 nesting pairs in the Garden State alone.   Most are in the Delaware Bay counties of Cumberland and Salem, but eagles can be spotted throughout the state.  The number of wintering eagles along Delaware River has increased dramatically from fewer than 10 in 1978, to a record high of more than 250 in 2008.

While I don’t live in New Jersey any more, it’s a rare day that I don’t see at least one Bald Eagle flying overhead in my new neighborhood, along the lower Chippewa River in Wisconsin.  In the winter, there are so many eagles that I have to be careful that I don’t hit one along the highway.  (Our national bird is not above picking at road kill.)

Even though eagles are common here, I just have to stop to watch and marvel whenever I see one.
But you don't have to live in Alaska or the upper mid-west to see Bald Eagles.  No matter where you live, the chances of spotting a Bald Eagle in the continental United States during the winter are very good - if you know where to look. 

You’ll find them where food - fish - is plentiful.  When the lakes in their northern breeding grounds freeze over, eagles migrate to rivers, lakes and seacoasts where there’s open water, good fishing and protected roosting sites.

If you’ve never been eagle-watching before, now’s the time get started.  January through March, Bald Eagles can be spotted in just about every state.  You can go on your own, take a guided tour and attend an eagle-watching festival.  

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