Contact(s): Sumner Matteson, DNR avian ecologist, 608-266-1571 or Gene Unger, Ferry Bluff Eagle Council president, 608-963-9838.
MADISON - Bald eagle lovers can watch up to three rehabilitated eagles released to the wild, see other eagles perching or soaring above the Wisconsin River, and view eagles up close indoors during live raptor shows as the 33rd annual Bald Eagle Watching Days lands Jan. 18-19 in Sauk Prairie.
The event, the longest running eagle watching extravaganza in the state, kicks off Wisconsin's eagle watching season: other known events are set for Fox Valley communities on Jan. 26, in Prairie du Chien on Feb. 22-23, and in Ferryville on March 2. More information on these events and general eagle watching tips area available by searching the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, dnr.wi.gov, for bald eagle watching.
"We just received news that up to three rehabilitated eagles would be ready for release that week of our event and feel honored that our event has been chosen to assist with the releases," says Gene Unger, president of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, lead event sponsor.
"Marge Gibson and Raptor Education Group Inc. staff do amazing work nursing these eagles back to health and people will always remember seeing Marge return these birds to the wild."
Brochures and other materials do not list the eagle release -- they were printed in December before the availability of eagles for release was confirmed Jan. 5 - but the live eagle release is set for 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, at VFW Park in Prairie du Sac.
Other highlights of the event include free guided bus tours to popular eagle viewing sites all day Jan. 19, live raptor shows beginning at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 19 featuring educational birds and trainers from the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee, and many more presenters and family friendly activities. Find full details on the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council website: ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org (exit DNR).
The DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program, NHC for short, co-hosts Bald Eagle Watching Days in Sauk Prairie with the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, the Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, the Tripp Heritage Museum, Bird City Wisconsin, and Raptor Education Group, Inc.
The NHC program also will have booths at some of the other events, says Sumner Matteson, a DNR avian ecologist who has long been a part of Bald Eagle Watching Days.
"Bald Eagle Days events celebrate the importance of the bird's remarkable recovery and afford excellent opportunities to view our nation's symbol along the shores of the Wisconsin, Fox and Mississippi rivers," he says. "Come join us!"
Bald eagle populations in Wisconsin have grown from the 108 occupied nests counted during the first aerial survey in 1973 to a record high 1,695 nests in 2018, affording fantastic viewing opportunities as eagles from northern Wisconsin, Canada, northern Michigan and Minnesota move south in search of open waters. Seeking fish, a main food source, the raptors typically congregate along open water areas below dams along the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Fox rivers, where their growing presence has turned the sites into birdwatching destinations and inspired many community events.
Colder weather ahead should bring more eagles to event sites and other traditional haunts
A warm start to 2019 and open water still on many larger southern lakes means eagles are dispersed across Wisconsin now, but Matteson says that colder weather forecast for mid-January will likely freeze many remaining lakes and bring more eagles to traditional roost sites along the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Fox rivers.
"When you have a lot of lakes and rivers still open, the eagles become more dispersed on the landscape. There isn't that necessity to congregate below dams or other open water areas to find food because the eagles can feed on carrion in the fields," he says.
Matteson advises that the best time to see eagles will be in the early morning (7:30-10 a.m.) as they come down from their roost sites to feed along the river and late in the day, like an hour before dusk, as they return to their roosts.
When viewing eagles, whether at these events or on your own, please take care not to disturb them. Do not venture so close that you cause them to fly off, and please stay in your car unless you are at a staffed viewing site, Matteson says.
"Eagles are stressed at this time of the year and they need their energy to keep warm through the long winter night," he says. "So please enjoy them respectfully and carefully and they'll continue to amaze us for years to come."