Not all eagles are snowbirds.
Although most eagles migrate farther south for the winter, about 800 to 1,600 of the birds typically winter in Nebraska. Thousands of bald eagles — up to a fifth of the lower 48 states' population — winter in Iowa, particularly along the Mississippi River.
If you want to see some of these hardy raptors, you'll have to think like a duck — find an unfrozen river, lake or reservoir. Eagles gather any place ducks, geese and other waterfowl congregate.
After temperatures in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa plummeted a few weeks ago, ice sealed off most lakes in the region where eagles could be expected to be found, said Joel Jorgensen, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's nongame bird manager in Lincoln.
“So they'll be congregating in any areas with open water in this part of the state, such as spring-fed streams or along rivers,'' he said.
Jorgensen said he observed a pair of bald eagles flying over 27th Street and Cornhusker Highway near downtown Lincoln recently. Waterfowl congregating in Salt Creek below a power plant discharge attracted the eagles.
The proximity of the free-flowing Missouri River in eastern Nebraska makes Levi Carter Park in Omaha, Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue, Lake Manawa State Park in Council Bluffs, DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge north of Omaha and Gavins Point Dam in northeast Nebraska places to possibly see eagles.
Several dozen bald eagles typically spend the winter in the hills south of Lexington in central Nebraska. They are attracted by a constant source of ice-free, flowing water — and fish — in a canal at the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District's Johnson No. 2 plant, particularly when rivers and lakes in the area are covered with ice.
Eagles also congregate below Lake McConaughy's Kinglsey Dam near Ogallala in western Nebraska.
Central is again providing eagle-watching opportunities to the public at both sites this winter. The district's hydroelectric plant near Lexington and a viewing building below Kingsley Dam will be open Sunday and Jan. 2. After that, the facilities will be open each weekend through mid-February.
The Lexington site will be open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. CST. The hydroplant is south of Lexington near the intersection of County Roads 749 and 750. The canal commonly lures 30 to 40 eagles daily, which perch in towering cottonwood trees and watch for fish to snatch, said Jeff Buettner, a Central spokesman. The Kingsley Dam facility will be open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. MST. There is no charge to visit the facilities.
A limited number of binoculars are available at the facilities, and visitors are encouraged to bring their own viewing equipment. The best viewing time is normally earlier in the day.
Buettner said several factors influence the number of eagles seen from Central's facilities on any given day, including the weather, ice coverage on area rivers and lakes, how many eagles are wintering in the area and whether the hydroplants are generating electricity.
Bald eagles, the nation's symbol since 1782, were removed from state and federal endangered species lists in recent years but remain protected by laws that prohibit people from harming or disturbing the birds.
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