PRAIRIE DU SAC – Wisconsin’s longest-running bald eagle watching extravaganza is going virtual for 2021, with programming available throughout January and February. Due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Sauk Prairie area’s Bald Eagle Watching Days will be livestreamed. Bald eagle lovers will be able to see their favorite parts of this annual event from the comfort and safety of their own home during its 35th year.
“Eagle Days in 2021 will be COVID appropriate,” said Jeb Barzen, President of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council (FBEC).
FBEC is a co-sponsor of the event with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce and Tripp Heritage Museum.
“Our planned virtual programming will feature the release of a rehabilitated bald eagle to the wild, a live raptor show and many more of your favorite events and presentations,” Barzen said. “We’ll provide experts to answer your questions and show eagle watchers how they can safely visit the area and see the birds themselves using our new self-guided tour.”
The links and schedule for all programming can be found on the FBEC website, www.ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org.
Programming is a mix of live-streamed and pre-recorded events beginning at 1 p.m. on Jan. 16 and 23 and February 6 and 20. Some highlights of each week include:
- Jan. 16, 2021 – Watch a pre-recorded release of a rehabilitated bald eagle to the wild by Marge Gibson, executive director of the Raptor Education Group, Inc., followed by a live question and answer session. This week will also feature a presentation of “Eagles in Native American Culture” by Art Shegonee, a member of the Menominee and Potawatomi tribes in Wisconsin.
- Jan. 23, 2021 – A live raptor show will feature Schlitz Audubon Nature Center raptors and trainers and a behind-the-scenes video of bald eagles getting bathed, fed and flight time. You can also learn insights from Barzen, a wildlife biologist, on “Wintering Ecology of Eagles in the Lower Wisconsin Riverway.” And don’t miss the story of Old Abe, a Civil War military mascot.
- Feb. 6, 2021 – Ever wondered why bald eagles choose the Lower Wisconsin Riverway for their winter home? Learn more about this from Barzen, a wildlife biologist, along with encore presentations of material from previous weeks.
- Feb. 20, 2021 –Tune in for an encore presentation of the Schlitz Audubon raptor show and a live animal show with naturalist and educator David Stokes featuring animals that live with eagles. And don’t miss out on additional insights from Barzen on the eagle viewing season and recent roost count data.
“The shift from in-person to virtual events means people can view the events and presentations throughout January and February, instead of just in one weekend,” said Sumner Matteson, an Avian Ecologist for the DNR and event planning team member.
Those looking to see eagles in the wild can also visit the Sauk Prairie area on their own during those months. A self-guided tour using mobile devices is available on the FBEC website and guides people to prime viewing spots along the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway.
“We’re excited to offer people in Wisconsin and elsewhere a chance to enjoy Bald Eagle Watching Days in a new way and at their leisure in 2021,” Matteson said.
Event Brings Bald Eagles’ Dramatic Comeback To Life
Bald Eagle Watching Days started in 1987 to highlight the growing comeback of bald eagles since their listing in the 1970s as an endangered species. The national ban on the pesticide DDT, added protections under state and federal endangered species laws, cleaned up rivers and public support of nest monitoring and protection efforts allowed bald eagles to fly off the state endangered species list in 1997 and the federal list a decade later.
Bald eagle populations in Wisconsin have grown from 108 occupied nests in 1973 to nearly 1,700 in 2019, affording fantastic viewing opportunities as eagles from northern Wisconsin, Canada, northern Michigan and Minnesota move south in search of new nesting territories.
In winter, the raptors typically congregate along open water areas on the Wisconsin, Mississippi and Fox rivers. Their growing presence in these areas has turned the sites into birdwatching destinations and inspired many community events, including the Sauk Prairie area’s Bald Eagle Watching Days.
“The comeback of bald eagles in Wisconsin is an amazing story, and we’re excited to help bring this story alive for people again,” Barzen said. “Converting Eagle Days to a virtual event has been a leap into the unknown for us but one that the broad conservation community, including DNR, FBEC, the chamber, Tripp Museum and the Sauk Prairie business community, came together and met exceedingly well.”