Best Spots for Eagle Watching in St. Louis

Wednesday January 7, 2015

42-12-2011You don’t have to go far to see the country’s second largest population of bald eagles. Just head north on the Great River Road (Hwy 100) to Alton and Grafton, Illinois. Each year, thousands of eagles migrate to the area. They come for the fish found in the cold waters of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The birds begin arriving in late December and stay until March, so there’s plenty of time to do a little eagle watching. Below are some of the best places to see the eagles in the St. Louis region.
Eagle Days at Chain of Rocks Bridge

Back this year is the popular Eagle Days at the historic Chain of Rocks Bridge. High above the Mississippi River, the bridge, once part of the storied Route 66, affords an excellent vantage point for viewing bald eagles as they “fish” in the open waters created by the rapids south of the bridge.

The FREE program happens from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 17 and Sunday, Jan. 18. The World Bird Sanctuary will present a program with a live eagle every 20 minutes from 10 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
The St. Louis Audubon Society will present a hands-on exhibit of local birds and a full-size replica of an eagle nest. Great photo opportunity!

Viewing scopes will be set up on the bridge for visitors to get close-up views of eagles as they cruise the area around the bridge and dive for fish. Trained volunteers will be on hand to help visitors use the scopes and get the most from their viewing.

Other activities include warming tents and childrenʼs art courtesy of The Green Center on Saturday.

As a bonus, Lewis and Clark re-enactors will give living history demonstrations at both bridge entrances. Re-enactors from the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles will be at the Missouri entrance to the bridge showing how Lewis and Clark and their crew lived, cooked, and traveled 200 years ago. Visitors can see a flag raising at 10 a.m. and a lowering at 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

The Illinois bridge entrance will feature re-enactors from the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, Illinois.

The bridge parallels U. S. 270 along West Chain of Rocks Road between Riverview Dr. in St. Louis, MO and Illinois 3 in Madison County, IL.

Visitors are urged to bring binoculars and dress for the weather.

Audubon Center at Riverlands

Another great place to view eagles is the Audubon Center at Riverlands where visitors can watch eagles from the comfort of the center through its massive two-story circular bay windows overlooking the river. Spotting scopes for eagle viewing are at the center which is off a back water area of the Mississippi River across the bay from Ellis Island where eagles like to roost in the winter on a strip of trees.

And the Center has two great FREE events to help you see eagles.

Birds of Winter: Raptor Reality! is offered from January 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 and February 7 from 10am-2pm. World Bird Sanctuary experts will be on hand with a rehabilitated raptor to do demonstrations. Note: while the program does not feature an eagle–the raptor could be an owl, hawk or falcon–visitors can learn more about eagle-watching and use the high-powered spotting scopes to view eagles in their natural habitat from the center. Staff and volunteers will be on site to help visitors and answer questions.

Birds of Winter: Eagle Watch! is another exciting opportunity to see our national bird in its own environs. The program is offered January 4, 11, 18, 25 and February 1 &8 from 10am-2pm. Visitors are guaranteed to see at least one eagle, up close and personal because World Bird Sanctuary experts will do a meet-and-greet with their eagles. Visitors also have opportunities to learn more about eagles and their habits. Again, high-powered scopes will be available for use and staff and volunteers will be on hand to assist and answer questions.

Audubon Center at Riverlands is at 301 Riverlands Way inside the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, MO. The center is just 30 minutes north of downtown St. Louis.


Bald Eagle Day at Pere Marquette

Now, here’s a real treat for bird-watchers. The first 15 people to sign up for each Bald Eagle Days program gets to ride in a van with Scott Isringhausen, interpreter at Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton, IL, for a tour of eagle country with stops along the way at some of the best eagle haunts.

If you’re not one of the first 15 people to sign up, you can follow the van in your own vehicle and make the same stops Scott makes.

The program begins at 8:30 a.m. at Pere Marquette with a short video before the observational drive. Visitors will learn how to distinguish immature bald eagles from mature ones, what eagles eat, why they spend winters in St. Louis and much more.

The program is free, but reservations are required–cal 618-786-3323. Participants are advised to dress warmly and come with a full tank of gas.

The park is on Illinois Route 100 along the Great River Road.

The program is offered on the following dates: Jan. 8, 9, 16, 26, 28, 30; Feb. 3, 4, 6, 24, 26 and March 2.

Although some eagles live in the St. Louis area year around, these are the months when you can see more of them. On a recent day, Isringhausen said he saw more than 100 eagles–20 in one tree. “Not all at the park,” he said. A heavy concentration of eagles were near the dam at Winfield, Il.

Insider tip: Return to St. Louis when the World Bird Sanctuary celebrates World Eagle Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, Sunday March 16, 2014 for a day of eagle fun. Both admission and parking are FREE.


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