On June 20, 1782, the Bald Eagle was declared the official emblem of the United States and added to the official seal. Today, we celebrate the miraculous recovery of the Bald Eagle, a bird once on the brink of extinction in 48 states. Thanks to the combined support of environmentalists who worked to document the dangers of DDT and the passing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the Bald Eagle rebounded and continues to thrive today.
If spotting an eagle is on your birding bucket list, planning a trip on American Eagle Day gives you several months to pick the right destination for you. With the winter months being the most promising for eagle spotting, you have at least six months to get ready to go.
Alaska Chilkat Eagle Preserve, Haines, Alaska
If visiting Alaska and spotting the Bald Eagle are on your bucket list, the Chilkat Eagle Preserve in Haines, Alaska, will help you check off both. The largest percentage of the bald eagle population in North America is in Alaska. Their arrival during winter makes Alaska one of the most famous Bald Eagle hot spots in the world.
While in Alaska, you will want to add the 48,000-acre Alaska Chilkat Eagle Preserve to your list of places to see. Thousands of Bald Eagles are attracted here due to an annual salmon run that spans a four-mile stretch. The northern spot of this preserve offers birdwatchers prime viewing during the winter months and tourists flock to it. The ideal time to visit is between October and February, but the Bald Eagle can be spotted here year-round. Birdwatchers will also be thrilled to find the American Bald Eagle Foundation here as well.
Klamath Basin, California-Oregon
If Alaska is too far a destination for your travels, your next best choice to spot the Bald Eagle is the Klamath Basin on the California-Oregon border. The basin claims it has more Bald Eagles wintering than any other state in the United States. January and February see as many as a thousand of these symbolic birds on the California-Oregon border, and they can be seen from several roadways. The Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is the ideal place to see the Bald Eagle. Be prepared to stake your viewing spot before the sun rises when dozens of Bald Eagles fly out from the trees they have been perched on during the night.
During the winter months, the Bald Eagles come in swarms to Dubuque. The town welcomes them with the annual Dubuque Bald Eagle Watch. The January festival includes a watch that provides eagle watchers with spotting scopes to catch sight of the eagles on the nearby dam. Preventing the river from freezing in the cold winter months, the dam’s fishing hole provides eagles with a much-needed food source.
January and February continue to be popular months for spotting Bald Eagles, and Wabash, Minnesota, is another popular destination. Known for wintering near the locks and dams of the Mighty Mississippi, the second largest watershed in the world, it’s the best time of year to see Bald Eagles here. With the National Eagle Center located in Wabash, this is one of the best places along one of the largest rivers in the United States for spotting the eagles. Wabash offers a unique perk for birdwatchers with bus rides to prime viewing spots. If you are interested in a tour of wintering Bald Eagles in Wabash, plan your trip to this destination for late February.
With eagle sightings so common in Emory, Texas, the Texas Legislature declared the area Eagle Capital of Texas in 1995. If cold climates make you shiver, the Eagle Fest in Emory, Texas, is the perfect destination for birdwatchers looking to escape the cold. Every January, the Emory festival includes barge tours that take birdwatchers to neighboring lakes where they can spot Bald Eagles. Bald Eagles are known to hunt for their favorite meals on these lakes, making it easy for birdwatchers to cross eagles off their birding bucket lists.
North Platte River, Nebraska
Nebraska may not be on your travel bucket list, but Bald Eagles love it. During annual midwinter surveys, close to a thousand bald eagles are counted along the Platte River. For the determined eagle watcher, spending time at the Sutherland Reservoir on the north side of the Platte is their best bet. With an abundance of waterfowl and carp, the reservoir offers ideal conditions for the hungry Bald Eagle.
The Bald Eagle is attracted to salmon, and with an abundance of salmon running in the northwest, Washington is the place to be for both the eagle and the birdwatcher hoping to spot the eagle. By the end of the spawning season, thousands of salmon make this a perfect nesting site for the Bald Eagle. The Upper Skagit River Watershed is the ideal water locale to spot them. Birdwatchers can also see them at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Plan your visit anytime from December to March.
Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
One of the best Midwest destinations to spot Bald Eagles is Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. Like other destinations, the winter is the best time for eagle watching here. Eagle watching has become one of the most popular events at Starved Rock State Park in winter. Thousands of eagles migrate to the park annually for the abundance of fish in the cold waters of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The first sightings of Bald Eagles begin at the end of December. With a stay that lasts until March, eagle watchers have plenty of time to visit the area.
See Also: Bald Eagle Facts and Trivia
Best Tips for Eagle Spotting
The Bald Eagle needs plenty of space. This bird commands the skies and it’s important to respect their need for space. Like any birdwatching outing, avoid making loud noises, which not only can scare them but causes the Bald Eagle to expend energy unnecessarily. Using your binoculars, stay alert by alternately scanning tree lines and high in the sky for what might be the distinct outline of an eagle. The Bald Eagle is most active at sunrise and sundown.
The Official Emblem of the United States
Respect for nature, outdoor etiquette and patience will increase your odds of spotting the Bald Eagle. With its majesty, strength and long life, the sight of the Bald Eagle soaring through the skies is awe-inspiring. American Eagle Day is the perfect time to start planning a winter trip to spot the only bird that can claim the title of official emblem of the United States.