ALTON, Ill. – Bald eagles are returning to their winter homes in southwest Illinois, and towns and businesses from Hardin to Hartford are ready to welcome them back.
“There are several hundred eagles that call the Great River Road home during the winter season,” said Cory Jobe, president and CEO of the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau.
With the arrival of river ice to the north, bald eagles head south to find open feeding grounds while they nest.
“They can feed in the fresh water of the Mississippi River and we don’t ice over as much. So, we welcome them every year this time of year,” Jobe said.
The bald eagles aren’t only welcomed they are celebrated. The Alton Eagle Ice Festival will be held Saturday. It kicks off with an eagle meet and greet at the visitor’s center in Alton but includes events area-wide.
“Throughout the day the National Great Rivers Museum and also the Audubon Center in West Alton will have activities, high-tech telescopes to view resident eagles in their nests along the Great River Road, and just fun for the entire family,” Jobe said.
The day is also a celebration of winter, so they don’t worry about a cold forecast.
“We’re going to have some live ice carvings. We will have ax throwing, big, large fire pits, S’mores kits, drinks. We’re also going to release a new eagle-themed beer, called Snowbird, from the Old Bakery Beer.”
The Great River Road is a popular Summer and Fall destination, but the majestic eagles bring an important economic boost to the area’s off-season.
“We have embraced our American bald eagle in more ways than one and so have our restaurants, so have our lodging partners. A lot of our Air B&Bs, vacation rentals, even hotel chains are offering eagle watching weekend packages,” says Jobe.
Many eagles are already here. Bommarito Automotive SkyFOX spotted two on Mosenthein Island just south of the Chain of Rocks Bridge Thursday morning.
“Eagle counters reported over 30 eagles up at Pere Marquette State Park the other day, over 500 trumpeter swans at the Audubon Center. So, we’re already seeing eagles and other birds calling the area home for the winter season.”
The Eagle Ice Festival will be held Saturday, January 8, from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. in Alton and West Alton. Another popular event, Eagle Days hosted by Great Rivers Greenway, will be held virtually this year due to renovation work on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge and the pandemic.