On an Alaskan cruise in 2014, I fell in love. Her name was Lady Baltimore, and I had never seen anything like her before. This regal and stunning creature tugged at my heart and I knew I would never forget my first, up-close encounter with an American bald eagle. A wildlife group had rescued this magnificent raptor, and although well cared for, Lady Baltimore lived in captivity.
I later learned of ways to experience the majesty of eagles more humanely. Every year, from roughly December through March, eagle-watching takes flight as a popular, seasonal activity all across the country, as swarms of eagles seek warmer climates along water sources south of Alaska and Canada.
Indian Country Media Network has spread its reporting wings across the U.S. and uncovered a number of geographically diverse locations where you can watch the winged wonders this winter. Get packing, and don’t forget your binoculars!
Approximately 5,300 acres of wetlands, grasslands and forests make up the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington State, one of the largest eagle nesting sites in the country, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The refuge is home to many species of birds, including the wintering American Bald Eagle. A modern, full-scale Chinookan plankhouse is also on site, built by more than 100 volunteers with cooperation from the Chinook Nation, and pays homage to the cultural heritage of the tribe, whose home base is near the lower Columbia River.
Where: Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington
When: December through March
What draws them: The abundance of waterfowl to eat, such as ducks and geese
Water source: The Columbia River and the rain
Viewing Hours: Daily, dawn to dusk; $3 entrance fee
Eagle watchers will not be disappointed in Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin, with more than 20 bald eagle nests along 30 miles of river and hundreds of square miles of land. Once on the endangered species list in Wisconsin due to pesticides, American bald eagle populations have increased steadily in the state. The town celebrates the popular raptors with a Bald Eagle Watching Day in January, which includes a 50-minute bus tour. If you can’t make it, don’t worry. Many of the eagles hang out through the summer, too.
Where: Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin
When: Mid-December through March
What draws them: Feasting on fish and roosting on riverbank trees
Water source: Wisconsin River andfishing waters below the dam
Best places for viewing: Ferry Bluff Eagle Council Outlook, Veteran’s Park and the Hydroelectric Dam
In 1969, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Mason Neck peninsula, 18 miles south of Washington D.C., as the first national wildlife refuge specifically for the American bald eagle. Makes perfect sense that our national symbol would find protection in our nation’s capital. The eagle is in good company, sharing the forests and freshwater marshes near the Potomac River with 211 bird species, 31 mammal species and 40 species of reptiles and amphibians. In June, eagle watchers like to return to see eaglets ready to fly from their nests.
Where: Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia
When: November through March
What draws them: An expansive tidal marsh and the fish
Water source: The Potomac River and its tributaries
Viewing Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., October 1 through March 31
In 1902, the Chickasaw Nation sold 640 acres of land to the federal government, creating the early layout of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Oklahoma. Today, it has grown into 9,899 acres of forests, springs, streams, lakes and swimming holes that attract boaters, fishermen, fun-seekers and yes, the American bald eagle, which flies in like clockwork every winter to snatch up fish from Lake of the Arbuckles. Join an organized Bald Eagle Watch led by park rangers, who will take you to the best viewing areas.
Where: Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Sulphur, Oklahoma
When: November through February
What draws them: Considered one of the best fishing lakes in Oklahoma, according to the state Department of Wildlife Conservation
Water source: Lake of the Arbuckles
Viewing Hours: Open 24 hours; free admission
Hundreds of bald eagles flock to southeastern Minnesota each winter to feast on fish from the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers. The Wabasha and Red Wing areas offer up some of the best eagle-watching in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. If you can’t make it to frosty Minnesota, you can do some eagle-watching from the comforts of your warm home via this eagle cam.
Where: Colvill Park, Red Wing, Minnesota
When: December through March
What draws them: Diving for fish
Water source: Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers
Viewing Hours: Open 24 hours
Eagle-Viewing Tips from the Eagle Institute
- Sunrise or sunset are the best times to eagle-watch
- Bring binoculars
- A portable chair is recommended
- Always call ahead to state parks for up-to-date viewing information
- Avoid making loud noises
- Move quickly and quietly to observation blinds
- Stay in or near your vehicle at roadside viewing areas
- Never attempt to make an eagle fly