Migrating bald eagles appear near rivers and lakes in winter months
One outdoor activity _ eagle spotting _ requires only watchful eyes. Though a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can come in handy, too. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) offers tips for families seeking eagles, an activity that is doable for all ages.
MDC normally assists with special Eagle Day events in the Kansas City and northwest regions. COVID-19 safety precautions have prompted a cancellation of group events this winter. However, bald eagles will still be visiting waterways in the region to pursue their two main winter food sources, fish and migrating waterfowl. People still have a chance to enjoy seeing eagles.
In the Kansas City and St. Joseph areas, eagles are often spotted in winter near the Missouri River. They perch on tall trees on shore or fly in circles searching for prey, often swooping down to snatch fish from the river. Parkville’s English Landing Park and Platte Landing Park are in some years good places to see eagles. Other parks or conservation areas are also worth visiting. MDC’s Cooley Lake Conservation Area in Clay County has an oxbow wetland that often attracts waterfowl, and it also has a Missouri River access.
Wetlands provide both waterfowl and fish for eagles. MDC’s Four Rivers Conservation Area south of Kansas City and the Nodaway Valley Conservation Area north of St. Joseph have wetlands that attract eagles in winter. Another good eagle watching spot is the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City, north of St. Joseph. The refuge offers a driving tour through the marshes. A wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds use the refuge as a resting and feeding place during migration. Eagles are often spotted perched in trees or on top of muskrat lodges.
One caveat, eagle watching is a weather dependent activity. Temperatures must be cold enough in northern states to push waterfowl and eagles southward. But if a major cold spell freezes most lakes and wetlands, the birds will migrate on south. Sometimes abundant food will concentrate numerous eagles together. At other time, they may be spread across the regions.
Visitors should also check rules and regulations at conservation areas to make sure they do not interfere with waterfowl hunting activities or refuge protections for wildlife. If leaving a vehicle to hike or observe wildlife, please follow COVID-19 precautions when near others, such as physical distancing and face masks.
When cold spells bring ice to waterways, one place that still attract eagles is the spillway below the Smithville Lake dam. Flowing water from the dam keeps the river open, and it is a productive fishing spot for eagles. But throughout winter, any place with open water is worth checking for eagle activity.
MDC and partners statewide and nationally have played a role in helping bald eagle populations grow. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed them from the national endangered species list. Missouri is now fortunate to have resident nesting bald eagles in the spring, usually near water. Watching for very large nests in trees is also part of winter eagle fun.
For more information about bald eagles in Missouri, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZpY. To find an MDC conservation area or river access area near you, visit https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z4V.