Eagle spotting is a fun winter activity for the entire family

Migrating bald eagles visit western Missouri rivers, wetlands, and lakes in winter to find food such as fish and waterfowl. Some eagle pairs also return to claim a nest built high in trees with large sticks.

Migrating bald eagles appear near rivers and lakes in winter months

One outdoor activity — eagle spotting — requires only watchful eyes. Though a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can come in handy, too. 

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) offers tips for families seeking eagles, an activity that is doable for all ages.

MDC normally assists with special Eagle Day events in the Stella area locally, as well as throughout the state. COVID-19 safety precautions have prompted a cancellation of group events this winter. 

However, bald eagles will still be visiting waterways in the region to pursue their two main winter food sources, fish and migrating waterfowl. 

People still have a chance to enjoy seeing eagles. In the Kansas City and St. Joseph areas, eagles are often spotted in winter near the Missouri River. 

They perch on tall trees on shore or fly in circles searching for prey, often swooping down to snatch fish from the river.

Parkville’s English Landing Park and Platte Landing Park are in some years good places to see eagles. Other parks or conservation areas are also worth visiting. 

MDC’s Cooley Lake Conservation Area in Clay County has an oxbow wetland that often attracts waterfowl, and it also has a Missouri River access.

Wetlands provide both waterfowl and fish for eagles. MDC’s Four Rivers Conservation Area south of Kansas City and the Nodaway Valley Conservation Area north of St. Joseph have wetlands that attract eagles in winter. 

Another good eagle watching spot is the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City, north of St. Joseph. The refuge offers a driving tour through the marshes. 

A wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds use the refuge as a resting and feeding place during migration. Eagles are often spotted perched in trees or on top of muskrat lodges.

One caveat, eagle watching is a weather-dependent activity. Temperatures must be cold enough in northern states to push waterfowl and eagles southward. 

But if a major cold spell freezes most lakes and wetlands, the birds will migrate on south.

Sometimes abundant food will concentrate numerous eagles together. At other time, they may be spread across the regions.

Visitors should also check rules and regulations at conservation areas to make sure they do not interfere with waterfowl hunting activities or refuge protections for wildlife.

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