It’s winter in Illinois, and you know what that means… bald eagle watching season is upon us! Spotting bald eagles in the wild during their annual return to Illinois is the highlight of the season for many locals and visitors alike. As the state home to the largest wintering population of bald eagles outside Alaska, you can imagine there are a wide variety of eagle watching hot spots, tours and events dedicated to this majestic bird. With thousands of these birds wintering along the Mighty Mississippi River on the western edge of the state December through March, visitors are sure to see at least one!
Starting at the very northwest corner of the state, head to Galena to experience a guided Bald Eagle Bus Tour. These four-hour tours are dedicated to helping visitors observe anywhere from 30 to 450 wintering bald eagles along the Upper Mississippi River. Even better is that you will have several opportunities to schedule your tour, with availability on January 21, February 11 and 25.
Travel a bit southeast of Galena and you’ll come to Peoria in Central Illinois. Each year, hundreds of bald eagle winter here in the Illinois River Valley. The Forest Park Nature Center, Peoria Audubon Society and Wildlife Prairie Park celebrate the season with events and tours, including Bald Eagle Day on January 7 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Wildlife Prairie Park. Activities include a special bird scavenger hunt, crafting and plenty of tips for successfully spotting a bald eagle.
Continue your journey to the Great River Road and you’ll make your way to Alton, another eagle-watching hot spot. For true eagle enthusiast, stay at the Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center to be just steps away from the bird watching action. The Great Room is the perfect spot to pull up a chair and take in the beautiful view of the Illinois River; you might even catch a glimpse of an eagle on the banks. Bald Eagle Days throughout January and February at Pere Marquette State Park give visitors the chance to learn more about the life of the bald eagle with video and live presentations as well as a guided tour.
For a full weekend of eagle watching activities, look no further than Starved Rock State Park’s Annual Eagle Watch Weekend from January 28-29. This two-day eagle extravaganza offers fun for the entire family, including interactive activities to help you learn more about these majestic creatures and their home in Starved Rock State Park. You will also get the chance to get up close with breathtaking eagles and raptors during special “Birds of Prey” shows, held throughout the day. Once you’ve brushed up on your eagle knowledge, it’s time to hit the trails! You can either hike up to the top of Starved Rock at your own pace or join in on a guided eagle viewing tour to get a look at these epic creatures in the wild.
These are just a few of the dozens of locations, events and tours along Western Illinois that are perfect for eagle watching. For more information about where to find prime locations, explore Things to Do – Eagle Watching on EnjoyIllinois.com.
-Illinois Office of Tourism