By Casey Jones
It is, perhaps, the only bird that any non-birding American can easily get excited about. Personally, I’ve always hoped to use a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) sighting to get someone excited about other birds. There’s currently no evidence that these efforts have been fruitful.
More experienced birdwatchers are not, by any means, immune to the excitement of a Bald Eagle sighting. My most-memorable Bald Eagle sighting took place on a Christmas Bird Count a few years ago. Margit and I were trying to find openings between houses on Pike Lake where we could get a good view of a patch of open water. We managed to find a good spot for an unobstructed view of some open water and focused our ‘nocs in on a codgery of coots. I searched through the sea of black feathers hoping to find something else when something large flew through my binoculars’ field of view. I pulled my ‘nocs down and found a Bald Eagle perched off to the side watching over the fleet of coots.
I spent several years living pretty close to the Wabash River and I feel somewhat spoiled to have had such regular Bald Eagle sightings. As part of my work duties, I’m often running into people on the trails and they commonly ask where Bald Eagles can be found. Based on my own experience, I just tell ’em to go to Speedway in Wabash because I always see one around that area. Now, I expect that folks don’t generally want to go to fueling stations in highly-developed areas to see wildlife, so then I suggest Salamonie State Park for a better experience.
While a Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) sighting wouldn’t be impossible, Bald Eagles are much more common in our region. Due to the time it takes for Bald Eagles to develop their adult (breeding) plumage — about five years — I suspect many large immature Bald Eagles are misidentified as Golden Eagles. There are a few subtle differences that will aid the observer in the field. Fortunately, eagle sightings ought to allow such time for the observer to distinguish between these two eagle species, as sightings aren’t generally as fleeting as, say, a Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) sighting.
I hope to check the ‘Bald Eagle’ box on this year’s Chistmas Bird Count — whether or not it is as exciting as the previously-mentioned experience. I hope that you, too, will be able to spot one this winter as Bald Eagle numbers in our region increase.
Bald Eagles tend to become more common in our region during winter months as birds venture out from their northern territories in search of open water. Staff at our local reservoirs take advantage of these congregations and will promote events when the greatest number of eagles can be seen. Contact the interpretive centers to inquire about these events.