In December, thousands of eagles migrate south to Missouri’s open waters to survive the winter and the large, trout-filled lakes of the Branson area make for an ideal winter home.
Eagle watching is a popular group activity and can be a very rewarding and awe-inspiring experience. The bald eagle has served as the United States national symbol since 1782 and these majestic birds are truly a sight to behold.
Biologists estimate Missouri’s summer eagle population is about 600, but that total grows from three to six times larger during the winter months. So if you’re heading out to Branson with the intention of spotting some eagles nesting this winter, here is some helpful information to assure your time is well spent.
At one time, up to 20,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles could be found in the United States. But unfortunately, due to hunting, DDT poisoning and the takeover of territory by humans, that number had decreased significantly by the early 1900s. In the 1970s, the bald eagle was declared an endangered species in 43 states. Today, the number of bald eagle nesting pairs has increased to about 10,000 and the bird has been removed from the endangered species list.
Where to Look
During the winter, bald eagles migrate south and relocate near open water where food is plentiful. You’ll most likely spot them in tall trees near the waters edge. Eagles are most active in the morning hours and can be seen fishing and flying around the lakes.
The Missouri Department of Conservation suggests heading southwest of Branson to Table Rock Lake and Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery for the best luck. Make sure to dress warmly and bring your binoculars and camera. A canteen of hot coffee or cocoa might not be a bad idea either, depending on how long you plan to stay outside.
– Bald eagle nests are huge, with the national record set at 20 feet deep, 10 feet wide and a weight of two tons.
– An eagle’s eyesight is five to six times sharper than a human’s.
– The wingspan of a bald eagle ranges from 6 1/2 to 8 feet.
– Life expectancy in the wild is 15-25 years.
– While adult bald eagles sport the characteristic white head, younger eagles can be various shades of brown.
– One of the largest birds of prey in the world, bald eagles typically weigh in at 8-15 pounds. That’s a huge bird!
– Sixty to ninety percent of the bald eagle’s diet is composed of fish.
– Bald eagles are fast! A flying speed of 20-40 miles per hour is typical but they can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour or more while diving.
If you’re interesting in attending one of Missouri’s eagle watching events, visit www.mdc.mo.gov for more details and a full calendar of Eagle Days events.