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Eagle Days are back after a one-year hiatus brought on by COVID-19 concerns in 2021, and renovation work on the Chain of Rocks bridge has caused a change of plans again for this year. The annual event in north St. Louis County has been replaced by a program at Powder Valley Nature Center for 2022.
Pre-registration is required, and as of earlier today, fewer than two dozen of the 300 available reservations remained for the Jan. 15 event. The program will welcome 50 people per hour to view birds in person, and then visit outdoor locations to try to spot birds in the wild.
Those who were able to register will receive email communications regarding locations for viewing, and more importantly, updates about any changes to plans that could occur because of weather or coronavirus.
Bald eagles are one of the nation’s best comeback stories. More and more nesting pairs are appearing and making their homes in Jefferson County. With winter weather freezing lakes and rivers to our north, many of the avian predators temporarily move south in search of open water and their favorite fish meals.
The bald eagle is held in great reverence as a national symbol for our country, but not too long ago we were destined to wipe them out. First through shooting and habitat destruction, followed by use of pesticides that poisoned their food chain and led to reduced nesting success. There is still evidence that they get lead poisoning from eating carrion that had been injured or killed with shotgun pellets.
Regulations restricting the killing of eagles, protecting their nesting sites, banning the use of poisons like DDT, and requiring non-lethal pellets in wetland areas have all played parts in their comeback.
While Jefferson County only has limited public access to the Mississippi River, the mighty stream is a favored winter haunt as its water remains unfrozen in our region except in extreme circumstances.
The old Chain of Rocks Bridge is accessible from Illinois, and the Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area is at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Both offer eagle watching opportunities. The Great Rivers Greenway organization also recommends Simpson Park and George Winter Park on the Meramec River in St. Louis County.
Alton and Grafton, Illinois, attract birds and watchers this time of year. Further upstream on the Mississippi River, the locks and dams at Winfield and Clarksville, Missouri, offer public facilities where visitors can view eagles over the open water downstream from the dams.
Anywhere you can find a river view or open water, you have the potential of spotting bald eagles flying and fishing.