The weather is turning cold. Time to get out sweaters, put in the storm windows, and realize that maybe, just maybe, your team may not make it to the Super Bowl this year. For Ottumwans it means something else…the Bald Eagles are coming.
Iowa is a prime winter destination for bald eagles. From September to December, they’ll begin their migration from Canada and Minnesota, ending up in parts of Southern Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri where the temperatures tend to be milder. As they migrate, they stay close to a water source, so the Des Moines River is a popular migration channel for the species.
According to Stephanie Shepherd, a wildlife diversity biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, “Iowa is one of the most important wintering grounds for eagles with thousands of eagles moving into the state from the north to join many of our resident breeding birds.”
Shepherd says that Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan “have some of the highest densities of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states and many of those eagles, especially from MN and WI, move into Iowa and frequently gather in large numbers around areas of open water where they feed and roost.”
Shepherd mentioned the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers as key destinations for these migrating birds.
Ottumwa’s section of the Des Moines River is particularly attractive to these migrating Bald Eagles thanks to the dam that has a constant flow of running water to keep the river from freezing over.
If you’re interested in watching for Bald Eagles in Ottumwa there are many places you can look. Start at the fabulous Bridge View Center overlooking the Des Moines River, where you’ll see one or two bald eagles on the water searching for breakfast almost every morning. Morning is usually the best time to see eagles since that’s when they usually feed on the rivers. Take a walk over the river's footbridge and stop at the Eagle viewing station or hike along the river on Ottumwa’s 19 miles of river trails.
Image credit: Isaac Campbell