American Bald Eagles Flock to St. Louis Area for Winter Roost

January 25, 2009

Record number of bald eagles arrive in time for St. Louis eagle watching festival


They come every winter to the St. Louis area to roost along the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers and feed. North of here, all the way to the headwaters of the “Mighty Mis-sis-sip,” and “Mis-sou-rah” rivers, the water is mostly frozen solid this time of year, and the great birds depend on the running rivers here, in the Middle Mississippi River Valley, and further south, to provide them with fishing grounds in the winter. Not that it isn’t cold here, but “cold” is a relative term. Even when we have some ice floes on the rivers in the greater St. Louis region, we usually are not “frozen in” completely, and the birds can still feed.

St. Louis becomes a home roost for hundreds upon hundreds of these beautiful icons of the USA each winter. They sit in the trees and on the granite bluffs overlooking the rivers and then take off to soar above the frigid waters then dive to the surface to grab a fish.

Hardier sorts than I venture out this time of year for eagle viewing around the St. Louis metro area. Just seeing the still shots is pretty amazing. If you do venture out for some winter eagle-watching here, you can warm up afterwards, and fill your own belly, with a stop at Fast Eddie’s Bon Air. It’s a big old rambling bar in Alton, Illinois, right in “eagle central” on the river. It has lots of nooks and crannies with tables and booths, and the best “bar food” you’ll find anywhere. Google it and check out the menu.

The following story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (January 21, 2009) tells you why:

Bald eagles show up in droves near Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
By Joe Crawford
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

St. Louis — Roosting in trees, perched on rocks and riding on slabs of ice
floating down the frigid Mississippi River, the country’s national bird
showed up in surprising numbers for a chilly feast Sunday.

Officials with the Missouri Department of Conservation counted 49 bald
eagles Sunday morning near the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, the site of the
14th annual Eagle Days, said Dennis Cooke, an outdoor skills specialist
with the department.

It was the largest recorded eagle population in the area in three years,
and it just happened to coincide with the weekend festival.

Thousands of bald eagles migrate to the region each winter after the lakes
and rivers in Canada and the northern United States freeze over, Cooke
said. They typically arrive in December, and they can often be seen feeding
on fish along the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers.

“They’re coming here because we’re not frozen up like a block of ice,”
Cooke said.

For St. Louis resident Al White, who came to Eagle Days with his 9-year-old
son, Drew, the eagle’s numbers are part of what make the bird fascinating.

The species was on the verge of extinction in the 1970s, with only 80 to 90
breeding pairs in the lower 48 states, but the population has recovered
steadily, largely because the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972. The bird
was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, and biologists
estimate there are now more than 10,000 breeding pairs in the country.

“To me it’s just amazing that they’ve made such a comeback,” White said.

Many of the thousands of bird-watchers who stood on the mile-long
pedestrian bridge Sunday carried binoculars and cameras.

Sam Schrader, 11, of Smithton, took the opportunity to shoot video of bald
eagles while his parents took photos. Schrader said he liked to film almost
anything, but his mother, Michelle Schrader, said her son took a particular
interest in the wildlife at a lake near their home. “He’s been chasing the
geese all over the lake,” Michelle Schrader said. “He and his friends stalk
them.”

Eagles are a novelty, she said, because he can’t find them in his backyard.

Several sites in the area host eagle-watching events. There will be an
eagle watch and trail hike at Fort Belle Fontaine Park on Saturday from 10
a.m. to 2 p.m., and the National Great Rivers Museum in East Alton will
host a live eagle presentation each Sunday through Feb. 8 from noon until 4
p.m.

Pere Marquette State Park puts on programs throughout the winter, but
reservations are required.

jcrawford@post-dispatch.com | 314-340-8349

Below is the link to the story, until the St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives it.
Record number of bald eagles arrive for St. Louis eagle days festival

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