Episode 23: Winter Eagle Watching Transcript


Nature Boost Winter Eagle Watching

[Birds chirping.]

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[Owl hooting.]

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Hey there and welcome back to another episode of Nature Boost. I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, ate lots of good food, but most importantly spent it with family and friends. We are now looking ahead to the Christmas season and cold weather. But that doesn't mean that you have to spend the entire season inside. This time of year is not only great for viewing Christmas lights, but for a different seasonal event but just as spectacular. Viewing bald eagles! Here to tell us more about eagle watching is MDC Resource Scientist Janet Haslerig. Janet, thank you so much for joining me today!

Thank you so much, Jill. Happy to be here.

The chance to view bald eagles is a great incentive for people to get outside in the winter this time of year. So tell me, why are eagles so abundant in Missouri at this time?

Yeah, at this time mainly around November through mainly February, bald eagles are migrating from further north Canada and the Great Lakes and they are moving from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds. Missouri is a great stopover point mainly because we have a lot of open water.

So they are migrating through and they will spend some time here and migrate even further south, depending on food availability.

Okay, so they are really huge this time of year in Missouri so the chance to spot them is a pretty big opportunity. Where would you say is the best location to see them? Probably around water since they are trying to get some fish?

Yes, yes. Open water bodies, and we have quite a bit of that in the state. So they are looking for plenty of water and food sources, mainly fish. So you will spot them mainly in the morning, but sometimes in the evening as well. In the evenings, they return to their roost sites where you may see 50-100 of them all together in one location.


They don't migrate together as a flock, and a lot of people assume that. They don't. But they do hunt together, occasionally. And they roost together, meaning they just spend the night together.

Okay so that is what roosting means. They are spending the night together. They can be in that large of groups?

Absolutely. Just locally here in Jeff City off of 63, it was last year, there were about 50-60 just in the field. Not too far from the river, though, just in the field. People got a lot of calls in about oh my goodness, there is about 50-60 and sure enough we went down there it was like, "Oh, wow, this is pretty cool!" Just on the side of the road.

Wow! Now when they are in that huge of a group do they make a lot of noise? I think a lot of people think that eagles look so menacing. They always look kind of angry. Their eyes. They kind of look like they heard you just say something really stupid. You know what I mean? But their call is kind of high pitched, isn't it?

It is. It is. When they are together like that, you don't hear them call too often. You know. Occasionally, you will, but in that large flock they are usually just feeding. You don't hear them. You may just spot them and go, "Oh my goodness, there is a bunch of eagles over there," versus hearing them first.

Okay. So, seeing them around water is the best location to see them. Fish is their main source of food.

Correct, that is. They do eat roadkill also, but fish is the main source.

I read online doing a little research for this episode that they have a really good sense of taste. They can tell if something maybe is past its expiration. Is that true? They won't eat something that is kind of old.

It is. Unlike vultures. We have turkey vultures and black vultures. They are the clean up crew, versus the eagles are a little more particular about this roadkill. Fresh roadkill.

They have a more fancy sense of taste.

There you go, yes.

That's true. The vultures they will eat anything. That is interesting to know.

You said morning time could be a good time to see them?

That is a good time because they are leaving their roost site. Early in the morning, you know daybreak. They will get started and be searching for food. That would be the good time for to see them leave the roost area. Then the evening afternoon before nightfall you will see them returning to their roosts. Those would be perfect times to see them.


Okay, perfect. So what do you recommend that people bring with them when going out to eagle watch?

You definitely need your camera and your phones. A lot of people are more phones than cameras. If you have a good pair of binoculars that would be really good, more so if you have a spotting scope just depending on the location. You may need the extra distance to see. A spotting scope, if you have it. Something warm, obviously to drink would be helpful and make sure you dress in layers and bundles.

That is true. It is so funny because we are recording this episode in early December and I think the high today is going to be around 72 degrees.

Yes, I know! I love it.

Are you a fan of the warmer weather?

Yes I am! Yes. The hotter the better.

Understand. It is one of those things you need to dress in layers. You will need to take something off as the day goes on.

Very good to know. So MDC offers eagle days events all across the state. Some of which include live eagle programs, some have exhibits and activities for kids. You talked about the spotting scope and some of these have guides with their own spotting scopes you can use.

A lot of time they are available there. I know last year I participated in a few and binoculars and spotting scopes were right there for anyone to use.

It is good to know if you don't have some of those things, you can check out some of these eagle events where some of this equipment is available.


Many of these events are happening in January. For a full list you can log on to Missouriconservation.org. If people would like to head out on their own there are many hotspots across Moussouri that are great locations near water like you were saying. Do you have any particular ones? I know Eagle Bluff's Conservation Area, here in mid Missouri that's near Columbia is good. Of course we are close to The Lake of the Ozarks.

Lake of the Ozarks, yes. The reservoir is a big one. Large water bodies, and even sometimes the smaller ones you may see eagles. It just kind of depends. You would be surprised where you may look up and go, "Oh my goodness, there are eagles!" So yeah, quite a bit.

Okay. So Janet, to wrap things up, I have a few kind of fun questions about eagles I would like to ask you. You know, they are so iconic for that white bald eagle head. But whenever they are born, bald eagles are not born with that white head.

Correct, yes. They are not born bald. You say, "bald," like in the old days, "bald" just meant white.

Okay, yeah.

So they are not born with that. They don't attain that white head until they are usually about 4 or 5 years old, when they reach sexual maturity. When they are full adults they get the white head and the white tail as well, actually.

So it actually takes them a long time to get that white head.

It does. You gradually see that come in when they get to be 2-3 years old. You see the streak in white, but it is not the full white head.

So when they are younger, before they get that white head do they just have brown feathers on top?

Yes, they have brown. Often times they are confused with Golden Eagles which we will occasionally have in the winter time as well. They look very similar as well when they are at that age.


It can be easy to confuse the two?

Yes, definitely.

Alright, so I know the fastest raptor is the peregrine falcon which I think when diving can reach up to 200 mph. Is that right?


Wow. That is insane to think about.

It is.

I saw that and I was wondering how fast can an eagle fly?

Typically you do about 30-40 mph. That is pretty fast. They do more when they are diving. I have seen eagles dive and it has just been absolutely amazing. It could be 60-70 mph or more when they are doing a full dive.

That is pretty impressive especially considering their size. They are pretty big birds.

Well, you know, they have a lot of feathers. They are not really that big. The female is larger than the male, as in all raptors. In all raptors, the female is larger. Not considerably larger, but it is almost impossible to tell the difference between a male and a female unless they are directly next to each other and then you will see that size difference.

On average you are probably looking at 12-15 lbs.

Oh, that's it?

That's it.

Oh gosh.

They just have big wings. It is the wingspan.

The wingspan is I think around 6 ft?

Yes, 6-7 ft wide. It is pretty wild.

Wow. I am 5 ft even. [Laughing.] That is crazy to think that the wingspan of an eagle is even taller than me.

It puts it into perspective.

It does! It does! So what is the average lifespan of a bald eagle?

In the wild, they can live about 15-20.

That's crazy!

It is. It is pretty amazing! In captivity, they have been known to live 25-30 years, even longer, in captivity.

Is that because they are at the top of the food chain? Do they really have any predators?

They do. There are several threats still to bald eagles. Not so much in hunting, even though there are occasions where people do go out and shoot bald eagles, unfortunately. But there is lead poisoning, there is collision with vehicles, so we still have a lot of that and contaminants. There are some threats, not as much as there used to be, obviously. But mainly because they don't have that, I guess, that they are at the top of their food chain and they don't have those other competing threats to them like the top predators.


Alright, well, that is understandable. But wow, 15-20 years in the wild. That is a pretty good life.

I think so. I think so.

Yeah, definitely. So, speaking of their lifespan. I was wondering do they mate for life like some other members of wildlife do?

They do. It is pretty amazing. They do mate for life. We have seen and this is kind of anecdotal, because you know, we don't band them so we don't exactly know who is who. But we do know that if a mate dies or does not return or whatever the case may be, they will take up with another mate. They do kind of move on.

They do move on. I like to think maybe they still think of their spouse. Their mate from the past.

Yes, exactly.

That just warms my heart that they mate for life. They look so mean.

They don't! They are regal.

That's true. They are regal. I like that.


They are! They are majestic.


Every time I see an eagle I just have the Star Spangled Banner playing in my head. They are so iconic. They are like if America had wings.

Yes, absolutely. That is what it would be. It would be an eagle.

Janet, I really appreciate you speaking with me today. I had such a fun time and I have learned a lot.


This has been nice, I appreciate it. Thank you!

So for more information on Eagle Days be sure to check out our website Missouriconservation.org. We will take a quick break but stay tuned, I have some Christmas tree tips that you will definitely want to hear. Stay tuned!

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This is Discover Nature Notes with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Wondering how to safely spend the holidays this winter? Heading outdoors can be healthy and fun. The winter sun helps us soak up vitamin D which helps with bone health and disease prevention. It also helps mentally and creatively.

A winter hike or scavenger hunt will work off calories and entertain the senses. Kids can be entertained by making and hanging bird friendly garlands or pine cone bird feeders. If there is snow, look for animal tracks or make snow ice cream. Go eagle watching near open water, or take a night hike listening for owls, coyotes, and other animals.

Recycling Christmas trees to backyards or ponds help wildlife and fish. Outdoor picnics or backyard campfires will freshen things up. Stay safe while out by dressing in layers, bringing water, and watching the weather.

Discover more by signing up today at discovernaturenotes.com.

The Missouri Department of Conservation, serving nature and you!

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Welcome back to Nature Boost! It is the end of the year. Next week is Christmas, that's crazy! If you still haven't gotten a fresh tree, I have some tips you may be interested in.

First off, always make sure the tree you pick is fresh. To test this, you can gently shake one of the branches, if a bunch of needles fall, it's not fresh, so go for a different tree.

Now when you get your tree, watering is the most important thing. When you bring it home, make a fresh cut to the trunk by taking off an additional half inch and place it immediately in a tree stand full of water. You should never let the water level fall below the bottom trunk. These trees can drink up to two gallons of water a day. That is a lot of water. Be sure to check it frequently! A fresh tree kept in water should last up to 5 weeks.


Now placing the tree in a safe spot is also important. You should put it somewhere that is away from a heating vent, a wood stove, or a fireplace as this can really dry your tree out. Of course, make sure it is away from open flames and candles and not in a high traffic area, just for safety.

Now what do you do with your tree once the holidays are over? If your city does not offer a tree recycling program, there's actually a few ways you can make it a gift to your natural community.

You can place your tree in your backyard to offer cover for wildlife or even under bird feeders to provide nesting locations in the branches. You can shred or chip your tree up for mulch. Or you can sink it into a pond for fish habitat, which I think is pretty cool.

If you used a live evergreen, another option is actually planting it, and adding it to your landscape for years of enjoyment and wildlife cover, but only if your ground is still soft enough to spade up.

If you would like more tips for Christmas tree care, you can log onto Missouriconservation.org.

I would like to thank MDC Resource Scientist Janet Haslerig for meeting with me today. I hope you get a chance to get outside and discover nature this holiday season. If you have any suggestions on a Nature Boost episode, let us know by sending us a message. You can send us one at missouriconservation.org/natureboost. Be on the lookout for next month's episode where I learn how to tap sugar maple trees to make yummy maple syrup.


I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation, wishing you a happy holiday season and encouraging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.

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