January is the perfect time to spot bald eagles
It’s especially wonderful at this time of year, when bald eagles are most active, making it prime eagle-spotting time.
In normal times, the Missouri Department of Conservation would be holding Eagle Days all over the state. Of course, this year’s events are limited to online only. But there are still ample opportunities to spot the creatures on your own. MDC says there are more than 400 documented nesting sites throughout the state.
Basically, any reservoir or large river is ripe for watching. But some are better than others. Here are a few sites you might try in your quest to spot bald eagles. Just don’t forget to pack your binoculars and some snacks and drinks. You may need to be patient, and snacks are always fun.
Where you can go to see bald eagles
• Table Rock Lake, particularly near the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery. Located off of U.S. 165 below the dam, the hatchery itself is closed to visitors until further notice. But there’s a large parking area where you can park and you can enjoy watching water spill into Lake Taneycomo while you wait to see if any of the raptors decide to go fishing.
• MDC’s Springfield Nature Center, 4601 S. Nature Center Way, is a convenient location if a day trip isn’t on your agenda. You also can try Lake Springfield Park and Boathouse, at 5324 S. Kissick Ave. Park at the water’s edge and look up.
• Go online. MDC is hosting “Birds: Eagle Days and Other Success Stories” via Zoom from 1-2 p.m. Jan. 23 and noon to 1 p.m. and 1 to 2 p.m. Feb. 6. The hosts at Dickerson Park Zoo will introduce participants to a real live rehabilitated bald eagle, share facts about the birds and hold a question and answer session during the one-hour program. To sign up, go to https://mdc-event-web.s3licensing.com/Event/EventDetails/175583
• If you’re north of Springfield, you might want to head over to Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks, 617 River Road, in Lakeside. You can also try the scenic overlook at 651 Union Electric Road.
• Roaring River State Park, 12716 Farm Road 2239, near Cassville, is also ripe for viewing bald eagles along with scads of other birds of prey such as Cooper’s, red-shouldered and broad-winged hawks, owls and osprey. It’s also a beautiful drive from Springfield, so even if you come up dry on eagle watching, you’re guaranteed some scenic beauty.
Fun facts about bald eagles
Here are a few things you may not know about bald eagles, courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website and the Animal Fact Guide.
• They prefer fish but will eat anything, dead or alive, and they’re not above stealing it. They sometimes will harass a smaller raptor into releasing its prey midair so the eagle can snap it up. They’ve also been known to steal fish from mammals, even the human variety.
• They play and work together. Cornell Lab says they’ve been known to play with plastic bottles and other objects as toys. “One observer witnessed six Bald Eagles passing sticks to each other in midair,” according to the site. They also occasionally hunt together, with one flushing prey toward the other.
• Their nests — or aeries — are easy to spot in winter because of their sheer size. They typically measure 4 to 5 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet deep. The largest on record is one found in St. Petersburg, Florida, that measured 9.5 feet in diameter and 20 feet deep. It weighed nearly 3 tons.
• The young ones are nomadic. In their first four years, bald eagles may fly hundreds of miles a day as they explore territories. Some Florida raptors have been found as far as Michigan, for example, while another wandered from California to Alaska.
• The oldest known wild bird was 38 when it was hit and killed by a car in New York in 2015. It had been banded in 1977 in the same state.
• It is massive. The average bald eagle has a wingspan of 7 feet, weighs 7 to 15 pounds and is 28-38 inches long.
• They can reach speeds of up to 100 mph when diving.
• Bald eagles can reach a height of 10,000 feet and soar for hours in these currents. They fly about 65 mph while cruising.
• Between the ages of 4 and 5, the birds choose a lifelong mating partner. Their courtship includes aerial displays and a variety of calls.