I recently read that bald eagles spend part of the winter on the Wisconsin River, specifically in the area near Sauk City which is about 30 miles northwest of Madison. The river, a tributary of the Mississippi and the longest in Wisconsin, is appealing to the eagles because so many of the lakes and smaller rivers freeze over in the winter. Here they can fish during the day and roost in the bluffs at night.
We set out last Sunday to a few recommended spots in hopes of seeing the national bird. We had already missed Sauk City’s Eagle Days festivities but were still hopeful. For some reason they are more prevalent earlier in January and on some days several hundred can be seen but they stick around until early February. We read about the eagles’ feeding and flight patterns at our first stop along the river but didn’t see any. Next we went to the dam, where there was a sign reminding us to stay in our car so as not to frighten the birds. If they are scared away they won’t get their needed nutrients from fishing. We immediately saw some eagles soaring over the river and then looked up and saw many of them in the trees above us! They seemed to almost take turns hanging out in the trees and leaving their perch to try to grab a fish from the water. Apparently they only succeed 3 out of 10 times. There is no sharing though. When one bird caught a fish it quickly flew away with several other eagles in pursuit, sometimes being attacked in mid-air. It was quite a sight watching them spread their enormous wings above us and flying out over the water. We counted 15 eagles in this tree:
The photo doesn’t do it justice but they were close enough to see the markings on the underside of their wings when they flew and to get a sense of how big they really are. Now that we know where to find them, we’ll be back!