Eagle Watching Season in Wisconsin: The Ultimate Family Guide (2024)

Winter in Wisconsin is more than just snow and cold—it’s eagle watching season!

Did you know that Wisconsin’s rivers turn into eagle hotspots when the weather gets chilly?

Why not make a day of it with the kids?

Bald Eagles: Wisconsin’s Big Comeback Story

Once upon a time, bald eagles were pretty rare around here, but they’ve made a huge comeback.

The resurgence of these winter birds in Wisconsin is a testament to successful environmental conservation efforts.

Historically, bald eagles faced significant decline due to the widespread use of DDT, a pesticide detrimental to their reproduction, and habitat degradation.

However, with the national ban on DDT in 1972, coupled with rigorous protection under federal and state endangered species laws, and initiatives aimed at river cleanup and habitat restoration, bald eagles have experienced a remarkable recovery.

Today, Wisconsin boasts a thriving bald eagle population, reflecting the collective commitment to environmental stewardship and the protection of these iconic birds.

And there’s even a cool license plate to celebrate their success (and help protect them even more).

Where To Spot These Majestic Birds

Eagles love hanging out by open water because, well, fish are delicious.

During the winter, they head south to places like the Wisconsin, Mississippi, and Fox rivers.

The early bird gets the worm—or in this case, the eagle—so your best bet is to check them out early in the morning between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Sunrise and sunset are also prime viewing times.

Fox River Hotspots

The closest eagle hot spot to Milwaukee is the Fox Valley, which is less than a two hour drive from Milwaukee.

  • Where to Go: Stretching from Neenah to Kaukauna, the Fox River has 16 awesome spots for eagle watching, all mapped out by the 1000 Islands Environmental Center. It’s like a treasure map, but for spotting eagles!

Mississippi River Views

  • Prairie du Chien: Grab the area’s eagle viewing map from the Prairie du Chien Chamber of Commerce to find the best spots.
  • La Crosse Eagle Watch: Just south of Exit 3 on Interstate 90, there’s a wayside where you can park and use viewing scopes for an up-close look. It’s a must-visit for eagle enthusiasts.
  • Great River Road: Check out the Great River Road maps for spots where the Mississippi River locks and dams are, perfect for eagle watching. Don’t forget to download their birding maps for extra info!

Wisconsin River Eagle Excursions

  • Below Petenwell Dam: A prime spot for catching sight of these majestic birds.
  • Sauk Prairie: Use the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council’s self-guided tour to discover the best viewing sites along the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway.
  • State Highway 60: Running along the north side of the Lower Wisconsin River, this highway has several pull-offs for eagle viewing, including a spot just east of Boscobel.

Keeping Eagles Safe and Sound

Eagles are doing well, but we’ve got to keep it that way. They’re protected by law, and there are lots of people working hard to monitor their nests and make sure they have everything they need to thrive.

Photo: Wisconsin DNR

You can even get involved by helping to spot new nests or keeping an eye on existing ones through the Bald Eagle Nest Watch Program.

Safety Tips

For a safe and respectful eagle watching experience, consider these updated guidelines to ensure both the well-being of the bald eagles and an enjoyable outing for your family:

  • Preparation is Key: With visitor centers and indoor facilities possibly closed due to the pandemic, it’s essential to dress appropriately for the cold weather. Additionally, plan bathroom breaks before embarking on your eagle-watching adventure to avoid any discomfort during your outdoor experience.
  • Maintain Safe Distances: When observing eagles from your vehicle, ensure you are at least 100 yards away to minimize disturbance. If you’re on foot, a distance of 300 yards is recommended. These measures help preserve the natural behavior and comfort of the eagles.
  • Optimal Viewing Practices: Utilizing binoculars or spotting scopes is the best way to observe eagles closely without intruding on their space. This approach allows for detailed observation from a safe distance.
  • Minimize Your Impact: Human activity can be stressful for eagles, potentially causing them to use energy they need for crucial survival activities. To avoid this, keep noise levels low by refraining from shouting, slamming car doors, or using your vehicle’s horn.
  • Responsible Photography: When capturing the beauty of these magnificent birds, always use common sense. Aim to photograph without causing any disturbance to the eagles. Long lenses are beneficial as they allow for great shots from a distance, aligning with the goal of minimizing stress on the wildlife.

Adhering to these tips ensures a respectful and non-intrusive eagle-watching experience, contributing positively to the conservation efforts that have allowed bald eagle populations to thrive.

Ready, Set, Go Eagle Watching!

Eagle watching is a unique way to spend a day with your family, learn something new, and enjoy Wisconsin’s beautiful outdoors.

Grab a hot cocoa, pack some snacks, and head out to one of the many awesome spots within a couple of hours’ drive from Milwaukee.

Happy eagle watching, everyone!

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