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Eagle Watching in Illinois

Illinois hosts the largest pop­u­la­tion of eagles out­side Alaska in January and February; there are many great places to see them in flight through­out the state.

American Bald Eagle, Illinois

American Bald Eagle, Illinois

Illinois is home to the largest pop­u­la­tion of win­ter­ing eagles in the con­ti­nen­tal United States, so dust off the binoc­u­lars, lace up the hik­ing boots, slip on a warm hat and gloves and get ready to embark upon an Illinois win­ter eagle-watching adventure.

Beginning in early January, Illinois will host more than 2,000 bald eagles that will use the state’s nat­ural river resources to refuel before embark­ing on their long voy­age to Canada for the sum­mer. Bald eagles flock to Illinois’ open, unfrozen waters to sat­isfy their vast appetite for fish in January and February, when water sources in Canada have frozen solid. Locks and dams along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers through­out the state pro­vide excep­tional fish­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for bald eagles, who can con­sume up to two pounds of fish every day.

Once endan­gered, the bald eagle pop­u­la­tion is increas­ing yearly through con­ser­va­tion efforts. Winter in Illinois is the per­fect time for trav­el­ers near and far to get a close-up view of America’s majes­tic national sym­bol and most-beloved bird. The fol­low­ing eagle-watching events and loca­tions begin in the upper north­west­ern sec­tion of Illinois and con­tinue south along the Mississippi River and encom­pass the sur­round­ing communities.

Quad Cities

Along the upper part of the Mississippi River, eagle-watching expe­di­tions begin in the quiet, early morn­ing at the Quad Cities’ Lock & Dam #15. Take a leisurely stroll down­stream from the dam and watch bald eagles catch their break­fast along the Davenport and Rock Island river­fronts, or look to the sky to find them perched high on the river bluffs. Learn more about eagles at the Mississippi River Visitors Center, located on Arsenal Island in the river between Davenport and Rock Island. Here the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Park Rangers offers edu­ca­tional eagle-watching tours and eagle biol­ogy pre­sen­ta­tions three times a day dur­ing January and February. For more infor­ma­tion on this pro­gram, please call the Mississippi River Visitor’s Center at (309) 794‑5338. Also in the Quad Cities, from January 6–7, the QCCA Expo Center in Rock Island hosts “Bald Eagle Days.” The 16th annual event will fea­ture birds of prey shows, envi­ron­men­tal exhibits, wildlife art and out­door eagle-watching oppor­tu­ni­ties. Call (309) 788‑5912 for more infor­ma­tion on “Bald Eagle Days.”

Utica-Starved Rock State Park

East of the Quad Cities on the Illinois River lies Starved Rock State Park, another nest­ing ground for eagles. Known for its pic­turesque land­scape filled with bluffs, canyons and ravines, this scenic park pro­vides the per­fect back­drop for win­ter eagle-watching activ­i­ties. The Starved Rock Visitors Center offers an oppor­tu­nity for vis­i­tors to learn about the area’s geol­ogy and his­tory before embark­ing on a mid-winter eagle expe­di­tion ideal for the hik­ing enthu­si­ast. Climb to the top of one of the sev­eral over­looks includ­ing Eagle Cliff or Lover’s Leap, where vis­i­tors are sure to spot a bird of prey in flight.

For more infor­ma­tion, please call (815) 667‑4356. Open to the pub­lic, infor­ma­tional ses­sions at Starved Rock State Park on January 27–28 offer par­tic­i­pants a chance to observe eagles in their nat­ural habi­tat and in flight with the help of “super spot­ting scopes.” Park rangers will be on-hand through­out the day to answer ques­tions and to help locate these mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures. For more infor­ma­tion on the “Bald Eagle Watch” pro­gram, call the Flock to the Rock 2001 hot­line at (815) 667‑4356.


Nearby, the town of Ottawa presents their own “Bald Eagle Watch” at the Illinois Waterway Visitors Center three times a day on January 27 and 28. See live eagle demon­stra­tions by Wildlife CPR Rehabilitation Center staffers and learn where to look when scan­ning for eagles. High-powered “spot­ting scopes” and Audubon Society vol­un­teers will be on-hand inside and out­side to help vis­i­tors catch a glimpse of eagles fish­ing in the waters below the dam. Please call (815) 667‑4054 for more information.

Grafton-Pere Marquette State Park

The Southwestern cor­ner of Illinois is full of eagle-watching activ­i­ties this sea­son. Spend the day learn­ing about eagles in Grafton from an on-site inter­preter at Pere Marquette State Park’s “Eagle Days” through­out January and February. Start the day early at the park’s vis­i­tor cen­ter, where vis­i­tors are invited to attend an infor­ma­tive eagle pre­sen­ta­tion in which they will learn how to dis­tin­guish between imma­ture and mature bald eagles, how bald eagles see and catch their prey, and why Illinois is an ideal loca­tion for eagle watching.

Following the pre­sen­ta­tion, hop aboard the park’s van and come face-to-face with an American Bald Eagle through high-powered “bird-spotting scopes” that are located in dif­fer­ent areas through­out Pere Marquette State Park. The park boasts a spec­tac­u­lar view of the bald eagles soar­ing high above the bluffs over­look­ing the con­flu­ence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The Pere Marquette State Lodge will offer a spe­cial “Eagle Watchers” pack­age for out-of-town guests trav­el­ing to spot the amaz­ing birds. The pack­age is avail­able from January 1 – March 31, 2001 and includes a deluxe room for two, full break­fast for two and an “Eagle Souvenir Kit” for only $79/night. Please call the Lodge at (618) 786‑3323 for more infor­ma­tion on their eagle-watching pro­grams or to book accommodations.


Close to Grafton, the town of Alton is home to many spec­tac­u­lar eagle-watching sites and invites eagle lovers from near and far to ven­ture to “Piasa Country” to explore the region where many eagles feed and rest dur­ing the winter.

Begin the expe­di­tion at the Melvin Price Lock & Dam #26, located on the Berm Highway, where eagles are often spot­ted soar­ing and delv­ing into the open waters to grab a fresh meal. Just a short drive from the dam, bird watch­ers will find The Blue Pool Quarry on the Great River Road, a great spot to catch eagles perched high in tree limbs around the quarry’s periph­ery. Following the path of the Mississippi River, plan a final stop along the bound­aries of Calhoun County, where bald eagles wait in large trees near the water’s edge, intent on spot­ting the per­fect snack. For fur­ther infor­ma­tion on eagle watch­ing in Alton, con­tact the Greater Alton Visitors Bureau at (800) 258‑6645.


In Madison, the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge pro­vides an excel­lent van­tage point from which to view eagles fish­ing in the Mississippi River. On January 20–21, “Eagle Days” will fea­ture a vari­ety of activ­i­ties sure to please any eagle watcher. The World Bird Sanctuary will host live eagle demon­stra­tions and infor­ma­tion ses­sions through­out the day and view­ing scopes will be pro­vided to assist vis­i­tors view­ing eagles in their nat­ural habi­tat. Please call (618) 874‑8554 for more information.

Columbia, Ellis Grove, Chester

For those seek­ing bird-watching adven­tures in Southwestern Illinois and who wish to explore eagle coun­try on their own, the Bluff Road from Columbia (in Monroe County) to Ellis Grove (in Randolph County) may be just the ticket to an eagle-watching expe­di­tion to remem­ber. Traveling the scenic Bluff Road, vis­i­tors will see tow­er­ing lime­stone cliff bluffs on the east and the dra­matic expanse of the American Bottoms area, the orig­i­nal Mississippi River bed, on the west. Look for eagles in the places where they have been spot­ted in pre­vi­ous years: Fults Hill Prairie Nature Preserve, Fort de Chartres State Historic Site, Modoc/St. Genevieve Ferry (which crosses the Mississippi River), the Kaskaskia Lock and Dam and Fort Kaskaskia/Pierre Menard Home State Historic Sites. Continuing south, take Illinois Route 3 into the town of Chester which sits high on the bluffs and pro­vides mag­nif­i­cent views of the Mississippi River and sur­round­ing areas. Be sure to stop at the Turkey Bluffs Fish and Wildlife Area just south of Chester, a place where eagles often frequent.


Further south, the Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge in Marion offers two guided bald eagle-watching tours on the week­ends of January 20–21 and 27–28. Tours depart from the Refuge Visitors Information Center and last approx­i­mately 2 1/2 hours, tak­ing vis­i­tors through the grounds of the refuge. Space is lim­ited on these tours, please call (618) 997‑3344 ext. 334 for infor­ma­tion or to make a reservation.

From fam­ily adven­tures to unique week­end get­aways, Illinois offers eagle-watching activ­i­ties for every­one. For detailed infor­ma­tion on these and many other excit­ing things to do and see through­out Illinois dur­ing the win­ter months, or to plan a cus­tomized trip, call an Illinois Travel Counselor at 1–800-2CONNECT (TTY: 1–800-406‑6418) or visit the Illinois Web site at

Photo by Picture Taker 2

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