Destination: Eagle-Watching in Rock Island, IL

What’s that you say? My heartland hometown was not on your winter getaway itinerary? Good news: It’s not too late to plan a visit—and let your ornithological freak flag fly.

bald eagle flying over rock quarry, Rock Island-Milan bridge, Illinois
bald eagle flying over rock quarry, Rock Island-Milan bridge, Illinois

I’m not ashamed to admit that I try to always have a pair of binoculars handy. Never leave home without ’em, that’s what I always say. Well, a lifetime of preparedness is finally paying off…

Growing up in Rock Island, Illinois, we were usually lucky enough to see a scattering of bald eagles in the trees lining the Mississippi and Rock Rivers—particularly on banks and islands lining the locks and dams, where birds of prey feed after other waters freeze. The dams keep things flowing, and fish thrown over the edge experience a temporary stoniness from the trauma. Easy picking for eagle dinner.

This year, however, has been unreal: hundreds upon hundreds filling the trees on a small island in the Mississippi, near the Arsenal bridge; bald and golden eagles floating over bridges; hawks floating on sheets of ice, waiting for stunned fish to surface.

bald eagle, Rock Island IL
bad-ass eagle
bald eagle, Rock Island, IL
vertically-propelling bald eagle, possibly wearing jet-pack

I kept getting sort of inexplicably emotional every time I saw how densely filled the tree branches have been… but now my emotions are explicable, because I realized: This is effing amazing—and not just on account of how massive and powerful and beautiful the birds are. Those things are incredible, too, it’s true. On a bone-deep level, though, I think I’m knocked windless by the fact that, in my lifetime, bald eagles were endangered. I gives me hope, I guess.

From the Chicago Times:

Four decades after the eagle was declared an endangered species in the U.S., experts estimate that there are at least 3,000 eagles in Illinois this winter. That’s three times as many as the early ’90s. This weekend, volunteers coordinated by the Illinois Audubon Society will check the numbers as part of the organization’s annual midwinter bald eagle survey.

“It is hard to believe there was a day when we were concerned about the future of them,” Knoble said as he watched 25 eagles outside his Rock Island office along the Mississippi. “Their turnaround is remarkable.”

My sentiment exactly, Mr. John Knoble (Army Corps of Engineers supervisory park ranger).

If you can’t make it all the way over to the lovely Quad Cities Area (aka QCA), tune in to the Alcoa Eagle Cam for live nest spying.

bald eagles Rock Island, IL

Watch live streaming video from alcoaeaglecamp at

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