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Eagles like open water near dams

Dispatch/Argus Photo By John Kim

Quad City Bald Eagle Days attracts people from several states to watch the eagles that come down from the north each year to feed in the open waters at area dams.

ROCK ISLAND -- People weren't moving. Lines were gridlocked in the aisles of the QCAA Expo Center.

Although people who stopped to gawk and chat at tables hindered movement, the traffic jam was caused by mounting lines for the live eagle show.

Quad Cities Bald Eagle Days costs just $1 for adults, 50 cents for kids over 5, and is free for those under 5, but there must be some greater attraction. In all likelihood, visitors just are really impressed by the once-endangered, now-threatened bird of prey with a wing span of 7 feet.

It is the national symbol, after all. Parents may want to share a sense of patriotism with their children.

The Quad-Cities' view of the birds is not unique. However, the area is an integral part of the range from St. Paul to St. Louis that attracts and feeds 2,500 eagles each winter.

Eagles migrate south along the Mississippi each winter to maintain their primarily fish diet. In the north, waters freeze and make hunting impossible.

However, the Mississippi offers dozens of lock and dams where churning waters are ideal for winter feeding.

``There is a sufficient water flow though the dams for them to get fish all year,'' said Donald Bardole, a park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When the fish fall down the dam's drop, they are somewhat in shock and easier to catch, he said.

Rock Island's Lock and Dam 15 has a 12-foot drop. Keokuk's Lock and Dam 19 has a 34-foot drop, making it an even more popular eagle area, Mr. Bardole said.

The number of eagles is directly related to the availability of fish.

The Quad-Cities area also includes Lock and Dam 14 at Hampton, another prime area for eagle watching, as is Rock Island's Sunset Park, Credit Island, and the area near the Arsenal Bridge.

Generally, eagles favor a secluded lifestyle, Mr. Bardole said. Minnesota, Canada and northern Wisconsin are preferred nesting spots. At last count, 60 nests were spread over 23 counties in Iowa, up significantly from past years, he said.

Bald eagles mate for life and will return to the same nest every year, expanding it a bit each year. Some nests grow to be 6 feet wide, Mr. Bardole said. ``They may nest 25 years in the same place.''

However, in the winter, people on the Mississippi's banks are rewarded by the eagles' return trip.

Last winter, the local Audubon chapter counted 250 eagles between the Interstate 280 and 80 bridges, Mr. Bardole said. In Keokuk, sometimes almost 300 can be spotted in the trees next to the dam, he said.

The Quad-Cities adopted the idea for Bald Eagle Days from Keokuk in 1967. More than 30 years later, it is still a success.

In addition to live demonstrations by the World Bird Sanctuary of St. Louis, dozens of artists display and sell art at the annual Expo Center event. Many conservation groups also set up at the show.

Whether you go to Bald Eagle Days or watch eagles in the wild, the Quad-Cities' gives a great view of the might of the United States' national bird.

-- By Kristen Foht (February 2, 1998)

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