5 Reasons Why Winter is the Best Time to Visit the National Eagle Center
The National Eagle Center is a landmark tourist destination found along the Great River Road in Wabasha, MN. Home to rescued bald and golden eagles and sitting on the banks of the Mississippi River in the picturesque setting of the “Driftless Area”, it is located at the head of the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife & Fish Refuge. Visitors get a front row seat to some of the richest and most important natural habitat in the United States, including the busiest flyway for migratory birds in North America.
The National Eagle Center sits in the heart of bald eagle country on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both states rank in the top five (#2 Minnesota, #4 Wisconsin) for bald eagle population, and eagles are present and observed year-round in Wabasha. In fact, the Center’s origin as a winter bald eagle viewing hotspot in the 1980s provides a priceless tip for visitors and eagle enthusiasts – winter is the best season to visit.
Here are five reasons why you should add a winter visit to the National Eagle Center to your travel plans.
#1 – Bald eagles are easier to see!
Bald eagles are so abundant along the Upper Mississippi River that visiting in any season is almost certain to yield an eagle sighting or two. But where spring, summer, fall offer the cover of leaves on the trees, the bare landscape of winter reveals bald eagles like no other season. The conditions for wild eagle viewing peak when the weather is the coldest – they are impossible to miss! Bald eagles dot the trees along the river. Large eagle nests jump out of the canopy and visitors receive a “behind the scenes” look at bald eagle habitat. The same goes for other native raptors, like hawks, that overwinter in the region. Visitors to the National Eagle Center can learn about these other raptor species through exhibits like Masters of the Sky, which offer tips for distinguishing and identifying native raptors.
#2 – There are more bald eagles to see!
Not only are the viewing conditions better during the winter months, but there are more eagles for visitors to see. The Upper Mississippi River valley sees a huge influx of bald eagles from northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canada. They migrate to the area in search of open water and fish. The river channel stays open throughout the winter in Wabasha due to the strong current coming from Lake Pepin and the Chippewa River confluence just a few miles upriver. “I’ve seen as many as 221 bald eagles at one time from Center’s 2nd floor viewing platform,” says Ed Hahn, Marketing Manager at the Center. “It was absolutely incredible!
Outside of Alaska, there aren’t many places where people will see a sight like that.” Locations like Colvill Park in Red Wing, MN and Reads Landing just a few miles from the Center are also bald eagle hot spots.
#3 – There are golden eagles, too!
Winter along the Upper Mississippi River valley also brings another awesome raptor to the region – golden eagles! Native in the mountain west and desert southwest of the United States, goldens are not found east of the Missouri River during the summer months. They overwinter in the valleys and coulees that flank the Mississippi November through March and are rarely seen near the river itself. Goldens migrate to the region from the Arctic tundra of extreme northern Canada. A more elusive eagle than bald eagles, goldens virtually disappear in the trees when not in flight. With some spotting tips and patience, would-be eagle watchers can see some beautiful aerial displays and enjoy North America’s other native eagle right here in the Midwest.
#4 – You can meet a golden eagle up close!
Golden eagles arrive in the Driftless Area along with winter, but you can meet one up close before you head out in search of wild ones. The National Eagle Center’s golden eagle ambassador, Donald, is on display every day. Visitors get an up-close look at an eagle that isn’t typically seen in the Midwest. Seeing a golden just a few feet away definitely helps educate visitors about the field marks they want to keep in mind when looking for those in the wild. If you want to see wild golden eagles, consider first stopping in Wabasha to speak to golden eagle experts for a helpful primer.
#5 – You can enjoy guided eagle viewing field trips!
Visitors can enjoy eagles driving along the river on their own, but for those who want a premium viewing experience, the National Eagle Center offers guided eagle viewing field trips. Running November through April, visitors join eagle experts on a coach bus for a Saturday afternoon excursions to pre-scouted bald and golden eagle viewing locations. They enjoy the experience of a traveling classroom receive pointers for making positive IDs, notes about habitat and behavior, and interpretation concerning other wildlife spotted during the trip. Best of all, attendees travel in comfort, minimal walking is required, and enjoy access to high-quality binoculars and spotting scopes. Learn More