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Bald eagle watchers flocking to the Wisconsin River

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SAUK PRAIRIE (WKOW) -- Bald eagle lovers can watch eagles perching or soaring above the Wisconsin River, see rehabilitated eagles be released into the wild and view eagles up close indoors during live raptor shows at the 34th annual Bald Eagle Watching Days Jan. 17-18 in Sauk Prairie.

The event, the longest-running eagle watching extravaganza in the state, kicks off Wisconsin's eagle watching season, according to a DNR press release.

Other events are set for Kaukauna on Jan. 25, in Prairie du Chien on Feb. 28-29 and in Ferryville on March 7. Check the eagle watching page of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource website for more information on these events and general eagle watching tips.

"These events are marvelous opportunities for people to come together to celebrate the success of bald eagle recovery and conservation in Wisconsin," said Sumner Matteson, an avian ecologist with the DNR Natural Heritage Conservation program.

Marge Gibson and Raptor Education Group Inc. staff will release up to three rehabilitated bald eagles during Bald Eagle Watching Days. The release is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, at VFW Park in Prairie du Sac.

Other highlights include free guided bus tours to popular eagle viewing sites all-day Jan. 18, live raptor shows featuring educational birds and trainers from the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 and many more family-friendly activities. Full details are available on the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council website: ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org

The DNR Natural Heritage Conservation (NHC) program, co-hosts Bald Eagle Watching Days 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 also will have a booth Feb. 29 at Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Prairie du Chien.

Bald eagle populations in Wisconsin have grown from 108 occupied nests in the early 1970s to nearly 1,700 today, affording fantastic viewing opportunities as eagles from northern Wisconsin, Canada, northern Michigan and Minnesota move south in search of open waters. Raptors looking for fish 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.

When and where to look for eagles this winter

A warm start to 2020 and open water still on many larger southern lakes means eagles are currently dispersed across Wisconsin. However, Matteson said that colder weather forecast for mid-January may bring more eagles to traditional roost sites along the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Fox rivers.

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 an hour before dusk as they return to their roosts.

When viewing eagles at these events or on your own, biologists advise onlookers not to venture too close as it will cause the eagles to fly off. Watchers are also encouraged to stay in their cars unless they are at a staffed viewing site.

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