Bird enthusiast following the migration patterns of bald eagles found themselves landing at the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge for the 39th annual Eagle Days.
The two-day bird watching event kicked off Saturday December 3 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and continued Sunday, December 3, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with people traveling hundreds of miles to catch a glimpse of a bald eagle.
Refuge manager Lindsey Landowski says the predatory birds will migrate south when rivers and streams in the northern forests freeze during the winter months, cutting off their food supply.
“The bald eagle tends to migrate in the fall and winter as conditions freeze up north. So the migrate down and follow the snow geese because they are part of their food chain,” Landowski said.
According to Landowski, the eagles are following trumpeter swans, snow geese, ducks and other forms of prey onto the refuge.
With eagles flying south for the winter in search of food, hundreds of visitors came to explore the 7,440-acre refuge to try to spot a bald eagle.
People had the chance to attend live captive eagle shows featuring Phoenix, a 28-year-old female bald eagle from the Dickerson Park Zoo.
Guests could take guided bus tours around the refuge or spend the day walking the wildlife refuge and searching for eagles from multiple spotting scopes.
“We want people to have an appreciation of wildlife,” Dickerson Park Zoo’s Conservation Education Director Pam Price said. “We really want to get kids at a young age interested in wildlife conservation; in habitats and in healthy ecosystems.”
While the bald eagle was removed from the federal endangered species list, thanks to conservation efforts across the country, the bald eagle still remains protected as a national symbol.
“Everyone looks to the bald eagle as the national symbol because they’re very majestic and iconic,” Landowski said.
The refuge uses the bald eagle’s success story as a teaching tool when talking with the public about the importance of protecting the environment.
“[We want to] teach them more about what we are doing here at the refuge. What we are doing here for projection of the habitats and how we provide that for the bald eagle as well as for other wildlife that come here,” Landowski said.
According to Price there are 110 eagles at the refuge over the weekend, with the possibility of more eagles flying down as the winter progresses.
“They will stay in this area as long as there is food. As long as there are open waterways and fish and waterfowl, they will stay they won’t move any farther south,” Price said “It just depends on the weather on how far they do travel.”
Wildlife officials said thanks to conservation efforts there are now two nests of bald eagles living on the refuge all year round. The migratory eagles should stay in the area until temperatures cause the waterfront to freeze. The Loess Bluffs Wildlife Refuge is open to the public daily during daylight hours.