Article: Iowa Eagle Invasion

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Article: Iowa Eagle Invasion

Just returned from a short visit to New Jersey and New York, for the funeral of my uncle, Father Dan Schneider. Saw many Bald Eagles while staying with my brother, whose home borders the Forsythe NWR. Got to photograph a rare gull. See my latest Blog post: Saying Goodbye

Barb Walker alerted me to this article, which illustrates how the eagles occupy such a warm spot in our hearts. It is interesting to note that our local eagles are just beginning housekeeping duties while those far to the north are fleeing the cold.

Sunday, December 13, 2009 12:06 AM CST

Big chill triggers bald eagle invasion

By LOWELL WASHBURN, For The Globe Gazette

An adult bald eagle takes a break from migration. LOWELL WASHBURN/Iowa Department of Natural Resources

The season’s first big chill has arrived. Northern lakes are succumbing to winter’s icy grip, and thousands of bald eagles are currently staging a mass exodus from summer nesting areas.

The southward migration has reached Iowa, and area birding enthusiasts are presented with unique, firsthand opportunities to view large numbers of our magnificent national emblem.

As continental breeding populations continue to soar, Iowa’s annual bald eagle invasion has become an increasingly spectacular event. So much so that viewing along major flight paths, say biologists, is as good as it gets anywhere in the Lower 48. And as winter concentrations grow, the eagles never fail to draw an eager crowd of human onlookers.

“We now have a tremendous number of nesting bald eagles to the north of Iowa which sets the stage for truly incredible viewing opportunities as those birds move south,” said DNR Wildlife Diversity (Nongame Programs) Coordinator Doug Harr.

“Around 1,300 nesting pairs of eagles were reported in Minnesota this summer, and Canada has even more,” said Harr. “As harsh weather forces birds south, Iowa becomes a winter destination as eagles collect around open fishing waters.”

“The annual flight is occurring now and viewing opportunities along places like the Des Moines River or below dams on the Mississippi can be truly amazing. I talked to one birder who told me she drove all the way from New Jersey to Iowa to view our wintering bald eagles. Opportunities like this just don’t exist in New Jersey and the trip was well worth the effort, she said. Comments like that put things into perspective,” said Harr.

But not all migrating eagles are necessarily in search of good fishing. Many are dogging the tail end of the waterfowl migration in hopes of picking off sick, injured or careless ducks and geese.

As waterfowl concentrate into the last remaining pockets of open water, marauding eagles cruise airhole perimeters in hopes of discovering an easy target. If the tactic fails, the giant raptors become more aggressive.

At Cerro Gordo County’s Clear Lake, for example, an adult bald eagle launched a sudden surprise attack and plucked an adult goldeneye duck from the midst of a flock snoozing on the ice near Dodge’s Point.

In Mason City, another adult eagle isolated and then killed an apparently healthy Canada goose from a flock containing more than 400 honkers at rest on a frozen impoundment. The eagle then took time to carefully pluck its 10-pound lunch within 40 yards of a downtown apartment complex and nearby public hiking trail. Joggers literally ran through a windrow of drifting goose feathers as they wafted across the trail. Talk about urban viewing opportunities. I’m sayin’ that it just doesn’t get any better than that.

“As fast as the big waters are currently freezing to our north, I’d expect to see a huge influx of bald eagles move into Iowa during the next few days,” said Harr. “Most of these birds are coming straight down the chute from Minnesota and Canada, and viewing opportunities are occurring statewide. I think we’ll continue to see some pretty good stacking up of eagles during the next two weeks.”

Lowell Washburn is with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.