KEOKUK — Forty years ago, bird watchers would be hard-pressed to see a majestic American Bald Eagle.
Thanks to years of conservation efforts, locals can watch eagles swoop down and snatch fish in their talons at the 38th Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Keokuk on Saturday, and Montrose on Sunday.
Keokuk Area Convention and Tourism Bureau, Lee County Conservation, and Montrose Riverfront, Inc., are hosting the fun and learning.
When it's seriously cold, eagles love Keokuk's easy fishing in open waters at Lock and Dam 19 with a powerhouse at the confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers, and tall trees on the banks, where large numbers roost overnight, clustering side-by-side.
"There is always open water south of the Ameren power plant and a with a good roosting area across the river in Illinois. It makes for a good stopping point for wintering eagles," said Tourism Director Kirk Brandenberger.
"Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Keokuk was the first bald eagle watch or show on the Mississippi River. The Iowa DNR, Illinois DNR and the Missouri Department of Conservation started the event to draw attention to the American Bald Eagle, which was nearing extinction due mainly to the use of DDT. They said that if any eagles were to be seen on the Mississippi, it would be in Keokuk," said Brandenberger.
Organizers believe the latest round of winter weather might help visitors get to see our national bird in action, their larger-than-five-foot wingspan flat as a board as they glide through the sky.
"The weather has been good this year for our eagle population. Typically, the colder the better. As the Mississippi freezes coming down from Minnesota, it pushes the eagles south," he said.
In 2021, warmer temperatures reduced the chance of seeing a bald eagle come out for a snack.
"Last year was cold but it had not been cold enough, long enough, to attract the large (eagle) numbers. However, about mid-February, it got extremely cold and the same tree that had four eagles in it during Eagle Days, had 32 eagles," Brandenberger said.
Keokuk's event hours on Saturday are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Viewing stations will be set up along the Mississippi River at Victory Park and the Southside Boat Club with representatives of the conservation department staffing them.
Saturday's event portion will re-introduce some favorite displays and classes, this year moving from River City Mall to Keokuk's First Christian Church, 3476 Main St.
"We decided that since we didn't a live show in the mall last year, that this may be a good year to try something new. We had the Geode Fest in September at First Christian Church and it worked out well for both of us," Brandenberger said.
World Bird Sanctuary will bring some raptors, including a bald eagle, and also reptiles including a boa constrictor, during “Creatures of Myth and Legends,” with show times of 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
The Iowa State University Insect Zoo will bring a variety of insects and large spiders.
This year will have three educational seminars:
11 a.m. “Wind & Wildlife: An Overview of the Interactions of Wildlife with Wind Turbines.”
1 p.m., “Freshwater Mussels: Livers of the Rivers.”
2 p.m. “Getting the Most Out of Your Woodworking Machinery & Materials.”
Other activities at the Keokuk church will include Native American Eagle Dancer Rudy Vallejo, with drumming and artifacts, children’s activities with Nauvoo on the Road, as well as food and vendors.
Lee County Conservation again will bring their eagle nest and other displays to Keokuk, and also will be taking some of the items to the Montrose portion.
Sunday events will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Montrose Riverfront Landing, with live bird and wildlife outdoor and indoor viewing.
A brunch will be available all day; Monk Creek Woodworks will be present and the Hunold Heritage Center will be open with a 1 p.m. button cutting demonstration.
An additional Eagle Days activty is planned for Friday. Dave & Warren Trio will have a mini concert at 7:30 p.m. at Dr. Getwell's, 1100 Main St., Keokuk. Admission is free, sponsored by the Cultural & Entertainment District.
Saturday, Jan. 22, will bring another chance to observe eagles, when Des Moines County Conservation will lead a caravan to a two-hour bald eagle watch at Lock and Dam 18 at Gladstone, Illinois.
The caravan will roll out of the Port of Burlington at 10 a.m., after a brief indoor presentation about eagles.
Participants should plan on driving their own vehicles or carpooling with others to Lock and Dam 18.
Birdwatchers will be given instruction in eagle identification. Binoculars will be available for loan but participants are encouraged to bring their own.
There is no fee or registration required for the program.
To learn more, call Starr’s Cave Nature Center at (319) 753-5808.
This article originally appeared on The Hawk Eye: Watch bald eagles in Keokuk and Montrose