Arkansas is consider by many as the mecca of Eagle Watching during late winter, Primarily because of its many large and open winter waters.
Bald Eagles feed on fish as a primary food source, and Arkansas lakes provide the food these birds crave.
Author: Jeannette Balleza
"Above all other birds it is the soaring eagle, with its size
and weight, that gives the most abiding impression of power and
purpose in the air," declared Edwin Way Teale in Atlantic
Monthly in 1957. Unique to North America and revered for its
majestic appearance, legendary strength and longevity, the bald
eagle became the national emblem of the United States in 1782
and continues to be an easily recognized symbol of patriotism.
Eagle in Air
Once endangered in all of the lower 48 states, bald eagles came
dangerously close to extinction. However, due to increased
awareness, protective legislation and widespread conservation
efforts over the past fifty years, the bald eagle population is
making a remarkable comeback, and eagle watching is becoming a
popular pastime for nature lovers across the country, especially
in Arkansas as well as parts of Missouri.
Kelly Farrell, Park Interpreter for DeGray Lake Resort State
Park in Bismarck, Arkansas, has seen hundreds of bald eagles
during her numerous jaunts as an eagle-watching tour guide. "It
never gets old," she remarked. "They are amazing and captivating
each and every time I get a glimpse."
Park Interpreter Sarah Keating of Lake Dardanelle State Park
concurred. "The feeling of seeing this majestic bird soaring
across the lake for the first time I went eagle watching was and still is awe-inspiring even
to me. Therefore, any time you can help a visitor experience a
'first' like this is truly gratifying."
Bald eagles follow seasonal food supplies, so they travel south
along the Mississippi Flyway from around Canada, Minnesota,
Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois when the northern waters begin
to freeze. Migratory patterns vary according to John Morrow,
Park Interpreter at Petit Jean State Park. "Some eagles are here
year-round for eagle watching, and some are coming in from Canada and the far
northern states. Some don't migrate at all-like in Alaska, where
they are almost as common as dirt."
Eagles begin to arrive in Arkansas as early as mid-October and
stay all winter long, departing around February and as late as
mid-March. Over 1,700 eagles may winter in The Natural State,
depending on weather conditions. Wintering eagles favor the
Ouachitas and Ozarks for the excellent habitat replete with open
waters, food and shelter. "The locations they choose are usually
remote with little disturbance making eagle watching more difficult.Good winter roosting areas
are available," commented Park Naturalist Merle Rogers of
Roaring River State Park in Cassville, Missouri.
Mainly fish eaters, bald eagles are attracted to the area's
abundant lakes, undeveloped shorelines, countless streams and
wild rivers. "When the lake's surface water temperature falls to
41-42º F, there is a mass die-off of shad, a small fish that is
a favorite among eagles," revealed guide Jay Viator of Belle of
the Ozarks in Eureka Springs. "Young, immature bald eagles, not
yet skilled at catching fish, frequent chicken barns in the area
to eat dead chickens thrown out by farmers," he continued.
In addition to fish and carrion, eagles feed on turtles,
waterfowl and small mammals, which they hunt themselves or
pirate from smaller raptors. "They are lazy birds!" exclaimed
Park Interpreter Lori Anderson of Petit Jean State Park. "They
want to find food without much work. Being the largest bird
around, the eagle will steal food that other birds catch."
While bald eagles are unscrupulous when it comes to finding
meals, they remain faithful mates. At age 4 or 5, an eagle
reaches sexual maturity and shifts its focus to both finding a
mate and raising offspring. The typical courtship ritual
includes aerial somersaults during which the pair whirls through
the air with locked talons. Eagles can live up to 30 years in
the wild, and they mate for life.
Producer Gary Cooley of Ozark Mountains Website, Inc., named His
Place Resort on the White River just outside of Mountain Home as
the premier place for eagle watching because it has a pair that returns each
year to nest.
"These eagles are fascinating to watch. The male brings sticks
and other nesting materials to the female, who promptly throws
them away. Then the bickering starts between the two birds," he
The peak months for eagle watching are December through
February, and January is Eagle Awareness Month in Arkansas. When
embarking on an eagle watching expedition, keep the following in
Eagle Catching Fish Feet First
Get out early. Eagles soar in thermal updrafts, so the best time
to see one in the air is when the temperature is rising during
mid- to late morning.
Stay behind a blind. A tree or car acts as an effective blind.
Eagles sometimes are shy creatures. People walking around or
towards a perched eagle will chase it off its roost, and flying
away drains energy needed by the eagle to survive in winter
Look near the waterways. For the most part, eagles stay 3/4 of
the way up trees while fishing from the banks. Their white heads
and tail feathers are easy to see against the trees along the
shore. Many resorts or marinas on lakes have pontoon boats for
Look into a guided tour. There are many half- or full-day tours
with expert guides available. For inexperienced boat operators,
running the river in low water can be very challenging.
Bird Hot Spots
Report any nest sightings. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
monitors all eagle nests in the state as part of nationwide
conservation efforts. Anyone who observes a bald eagle nest is
asked to report it to the AGFC's Wildlife Management Division at
Be mindful of the law. Possession of an eagle feather or other
body part is a felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and/or
imprisonment. Exceptions apply only to certain Native American
tribes with appropriate legal documents.
For information on more eagle watching opportunities, contact
your local park rangers or naturalists.