More than 50 years ago, the bald eagle population in the U.S. was pushed to the brink of extinction. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added bald eagles to the Endangered Species List — the result of poaching, toxic contamination from the pesticide DDT and habitat destruction.
But that was many decades ago, and eagles have since been reintroduced into Indiana and other states across the country. Their numbers have continued to grow and now more than 300 eagle nests have been reported in Indiana in the last year.
You may have seen one flying by Eagle Creek, or perched near Lake Monroe down in Bloomington. As their numbers increase, so, too, do the number of places you can see them.
You might be surprised to learn that we are actually approaching the prime season for bald eagle watching in Indiana. That’s why for this edition of the Scrub Hub, we will be focusing on the majestic bird.
Want to see Indiana's best wildlife?: Take this expert advice and go west.
We will be answering the questions: Where are the best places to see bald eagles around Indiana? And why is winter the best time to spot them?
Keep reading to learn more and figure out the best place spots for eagle viewing.
Short Answer: Where to spot bald eagles
Bald eagles are very abundant along the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries, which include the Wabash and White rivers in Indiana. While these birds are around all times of year, January and February bring large concentrations.
And they most notably flock around areas of open water, which provide an ample food source. They also prefer areas where there is little human disturbance and protected roosting areas, such as tall and big trees.
In Indiana, many of the best places to see bald eagles include the state’s parks. Over the coming two months, several of the properties run by the Department of Natural Resources will host guided caravan tours about where to see these birds that are the emblem for our country:
Patoka Lake, located south of French Lick and West Baden, will have an eagle watch event on Jan. 8.
Mississinewa Lake near Peru will have guided tours on Jan. 15 and 22.
As the location where eagles were first reintroduced in Indiana, Lake Monroe is still a hotspot to see them. There will be several events at the park near Bloomington between Jan. 22-30.
Turkey Run State Park located north of Terre Haute will host opportunities to spot eagles the weekend beginning Jan. 28.
Lastly, Salamonie Lake in Huntington County will host three different eagle-viewing events on Feb. 5, 12 and 19.
Advanced registration is generally required for these events, and some may involve some program fees. Even if you aren’t able to do a tour, keep your eyes open when you are near a big body of water this winter and you might just spot a bald eagle.
Long Answer: Bald eagles easier to spot in the winter
But why winter? This season is normally one marked by hibernation — both for humans and many animals.
Several aspects of the winter season, however, are exactly what make it the prime time for spotting bald eagles.
The first reason is easy: There are fewer leaves on the trees. While spotting an eagle any time of year is possible, spring, summer and fall offer the cover of leaves. The winter season, on the other hand, is a bare landscape that reveals bald eagles.
Not only are they more visible, but there are more of them. The Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries often see a big influx of bald eagles from Wisconsin, Minnesota and even Canada. They migrate from these more northern areas where their sources of water — and therefore food — usually freeze over during the winter time.
That sends them south in search of open water and a food source. Most of Indiana’s larger bodies of water do not freeze, giving eagles more opportunities to find dinner.
Food was actually the beginning of the end for eagles and many other birds several decades ago. Once DDT, a pesticide, got into the food chain, it worked its way up to the top and started hurting eagles when they ate contaminated fish.
The chemical then interfered with the eagles’ ability to produce strong egg shells, and the shells either broke or failed to hatch. Bald eagle numbers plummeted.
They were reintroduced in Indiana in the 1980s. Seventy-three eaglets that were less than 10 weeks old were obtained from Wisconsin and Alaska and brought to Indiana. The birds were monitored and fed daily until they were old enough to fly, and since then, the population has continued to expand.
Within a decade, there were roughly 20 different nesting territories around Indiana. By 2020, there were over 350 nesting sites around Indiana.
Eagles don’t physically change during the winter — there’s no extra layer of fur or fat — but their behavior does shift to make it through the coldest months. They become more of a scavenger than a hunter. While they still eat a lot of fish, they also take to roadkill, carcasses that hunters discard, etc.
They are particularly drawn to open water, not just for the available fish but also because other wildlife are drawn to water, too, which might make for a snack.
A second major change during the winter is that eagles give up their mostly solitary lifestyle for one that is more communal. They gather in large numbers at roost sites, which tend to be a cluster of large trees and near their food source.
That means lots of eagles are clustered in barren trees near open bodies of water – all things that make them easier to spot.
Known bald eagle nests are all over Indiana, so keep your eyes open and you just might be lucky enough to see one.
If you have more questions about spotting wildlife, or any other questions, let us know! You can ask us by submitting a question through our Google form below.
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Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.
IndyStar's environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Bald eagle season is around the corner, here's where to see them