Watch eagles perch, preen and soar in their winter roosts in the Quad Cities.
As we move into 2010, it's prime eagle-watching season in the Mid-Mississippi Valley. The area includes Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in Illinois. From mid-December through February, area trees and bluffs are home to up to 2,500 bald eagles making their way south from Canada.
The breathtaking sight of our national bird in flight can be viewed in many spots in the Quad Cities, marking 41 years of bald eagle education. The birds, with their huge wingspans of white feathers, have been a symbol of freedom since 1782 when the eagle became the emblem of the United States.
As humans fished eagles' waters and invaded their habitats, the eagle population diminished. The Interior Department removed the American bald eagle from the Endangered Species Act's "threatened" list in 2007. But criminal penalties still exist for those who take or disturb the birds under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.
About 70,000 bald eagles exist. Nearly half live in Alaska and a large concentration also resides in British Columbia. So the Quad Cities offers a rare opportunity to watch the species in the wild. Adults have white-feathered ("bald") heads, youngsters, dark heads.
Migrating eagles hunting for fish and unfrozen water can often be spotted cold winter mornings along the banks of the Mississippi River. Many, winging from Northern areas, reach speeds of about 30 miles an hour. The sharp-eyed scavengers have wingspans of six to eight feet, boast 7,000 feathers, and weigh 8 to 11 pounds.
Bald Eagle Days is a three-day event next weekend at the QCCA Expo Center, 2621 Fourth Avenue in Rock Island. The largest eagle-viewing event of its kind in the Midwest runs 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for kids. Live eagle programs and bird of prey demonstrations are included along with fine arts exhibits, a wildlife art show and sale. Other attractions are Richard English's Wild Cat Show and The Toonies recycling enviro-show.
Spotting scopes will be set up and manned by the Quad City Audubon Society at Sunset Marina with a free shuttle bus running from the Expo Center. For more information, visitQCCAEXPOCENTER.COM
The Mississippi River Visitors Center on Arsenal Island, between Davenport and Rock Island, offers free eagle watches and Clock Tower tours every weekend on Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 16 through Feb. 14 at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3 p.m.. Reservations are required, (309) 794-5338. For more information, visit MISSRIVER.ORG
Later this month, the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center in LeClaire, Iowa, hosts a Bald Eagle Watch on January 30 and 31. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers park rangers will give slide programs, set up telescopes at Lock & Dam 14 and assist with eagle-spotting. Trolley tours are available on Saturday and Sunday.
Admission to the Eagle Watch is free. Trolley tours are $25 per adult, $15 per child and include refreshments. For more information, visit IOWAWELCOMECENTER.COM
Other eagle-spotting spots: Pleasant Valley, Iowa; Hampton, Ill.; Sunset Park in Rock Island; Credit Island in Davenport; and riverfronts in Davenport and Rock Island from Lock and Dam 15).
For a more intense experience, join naturalist Bob Motz for a Bald Eagle Safari. He provides car window-mounted spotting scopes (they magnify images 15 to 45 times) for prime viewing of eagles in trees. It's a chance to see the yellow of their eyes and the black talons on their claws.
The cost is $20 per hour for one to four people. Two- to three-hours safaris are recommended. For more information, call (309) 788-8389 or email email@example.com
If you like winter sports, plan to stay for a day or two to enjoy cross-country skiing, ice-skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and winter hiking.
IF YOU GO
The Quad Cities includes Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois.
For more information, contact the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 747-7800.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Take Interstate 80 West to Interstate 74 West, which will take you into Moline and Davenport. Once in the area, there are five welcome centers in the Quad Cities to gather information.
WHAT TO BRING:
*Layers of warm clothing. Winter eagle-spotting is a chilly pastime, so dress for the weather.
*Binoculars. While most events include spotting stations with equipment to capture still birds, binoculars will help you identify eagles in flight.
*A camera. If you're lucky enough to have a good zoom lens, bring it along for a rare opportunity to capture a shot of our national bird.
WHAT THE KIDS WILL LIKE:
*The trolley tour to different sites for prime eagle viewing.
WHAT YOU'LL LIKE:
*The awe-inspiring sight of eagles in the wild. Enjoying a safari with your own tour guide and super-magnifiers that make the smallest eagle details visible.
AND DON'T MISS:
* A visit to the big agricultural exhibit at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline. John Deere fans also can stop by the John Deere Historic Site, John Deere store and John Deere Co.'s world headquarters.