It's peak eagle viewing season at Ill. state parks

Starved Rock holds Eagle Watch Weekend and Bald Eagle Days resume at Pere Marquette

Winter brings bald eagles into Illinois, and it’s peak viewing season right now. (Wikimedia Commons/Peter K. Burian)

Winter brings bald eagles into Illinois, and it’s peak viewing season right now. (Wikimedia Commons/Peter K. Burian)

By Ted Cox

It’s peak eagle season in Illinois.

Starved Rock in Utica plays host to Eagle Watch Weekend Saturday and Sunday, and Quincy holds its seventh annual Great River Eagles Days. Then on Monday the annual Bald Eagle Days celebration at Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton kicks into high gear with almost daily events running into February.

Bald eagles have revived in Illinois, to the point where some were saying a year ago that they’re so numerous they’re “like sparrows” along the Mississippi River. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has estimated that 3,100 bald eagles winter here — lured by the relatively mild weather and the ample hunting along the state’s waterways — “more wintering bald eagles, in fact, than in any other state outside Alaska.”

Bald Eagle Watch Weekend at Starved Rock is presented by the Illinois Audubon Society and the Illinois Raptor Center. Hikes leave the Visitor Center at Starved Rock, 2678 N. State Rte. 178, Utica, at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, bound for spotting scopes set up on Starved Rock. There are also longer hikes to Eagle Cliff and Lovers Leap, and to Wildcat Canyon with its overlooks. A trolley is also available, with $2 armbands providing rides all day.

Other indoor events are set for Starved Rock Lodge, and there’s a chance to meet Sadie the Starved Rock Bald Eagle from 9 a.m. to noon both days at the State Park Visitor Center, presented by Save Our American Raptors. Here’s a complete schedule with a map.

The Quincy Bald Eagle Watch takes place both days this weekend from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Oakley Lindsay Civic Center. Outdoor viewing is at Lock & Dam 21, located at 909 W. Lock and Dam Road.

The Mississippi River locks at Alton also lure bald eagles to that area, and Pere Marquette State Park just to the north in Grafton resumes its annual Bald Eagle Days celebration sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources on Monday with almost daily events running through Feb. 8. (Only Jan. 30 and Feb. 3 and 6 are off days.) A slightly more sporadic scheduled resumes Feb. 14 and runs into March. Eagle watching and other presentations begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Visitor Center, located appropriately enough at 13112 Visitor Center Lane, and reservations are required by calling (618) 786-3323.

For those inclined to stay indoors given the current weather, there’s a Bald Eagle Festival in the Pere Marquette Lodge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free, but there’s also a Masters of the Sky show featuring bald eagles and other raptors at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m., tickets $5.