National Wildlife Refuge System

A Dozen Great Places to See Bald Eagles

Birding Home Page

More than 130 national wildlife refuges have bald eagles and several were established specifically for protection of America's national symbol. Here are a dozen wildlife refuges renowned for the number of bald eagles:

Credit: George Gentry

The Klamath Basin Refuges (Tulelake, California, 530-667-2231) host the largest wintering concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Each November, bald eagles begin to appear en masse on their Klamath Basin wintering grounds. Flying from as far away as the Northwest Territories in Canada and Glacier National Park, they quickly settle into a daily routine of waterfowl scavenging throughout the basin's marshes by day and seeking shelter in large trees on nearby Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge at night. Visitors should be able to easily spot dozens of these majestic raptors along the auto tours at Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges. It is not uncommon to see more than 50 eagles from one spot. To watch the eagles fly out in the morning on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges, drive to the boundary of Bear Valley Refuge, just off US. Highway 97, south of Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge (Basom, New York, 716-948-9154). Midway between Buffalo and Rochester, the refuge counts eagle-watching as among its most popular activities. In fact, bald eagles have maintained an active nest on the refuge since 1986. From February through August, visitors can view live television transmissions from an active bald eagle thanks to cameras mounted in the nest tree. The Bald Eagle Channel project is a partnership program with the New York State Department of Conservation begun in 1994.

Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge (Woodbridge, Virginia, 703-490-4979). Eighteen miles south of Washington, DC, on the banks of the Potomac River, the national wildlife refuge was established in 1969 for the protection of nesting, feeding and roosting habitat for bald eagles. It was the first national wildlife refuge specifically established for bald eagles. Today, the Great Marsh Trail provides the best overlook on the refuge to see bald eagles. From November through March, eagles are courting, rebuilding their nests and laying eggs. By June, eaglets are fledging the nests.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (Cambridge, Maryland, 410-228-2692). Eagles are here in droves from the fall through the summer, taking advantage of the mix of marsh, forested uplands and some farm fields. The refuge annually winters more than 200 bald eagles, and supports the Atlantic Coast's largest nesting population of bald eagles north of Florida. The Nanticoke River, in the heart of the refuge's Nanticoke Division, has been designated a Maryland Wild and Scenic River.

Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge (Crystal River, Florida, 352-563-2088). From October through April, many bald eagles winter and nest on the banks of the Chassahowitzka River. In fact, visitors frequently will be greeted by a pair of bald eagles in a tree at the refuge entrance. Visitors can take pontoon boat tours, rent canoes or bring their own boats to get views of adult and juvenile birds hunting for fish.

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge (Missouri Valley, Iowa, 712-642-4121). This refuge is an important wintering area for up to 120 bald eagles. Indeed, wildlife surrounds visitors at the refuge. Although wild animals can be elusive, every bend, bush, and field provides a viewing opportunity. Visitors can explore Cottonwood/Grassland, Missouri Meander and Wood Duck nature trails. Additionally, visitors can see 200,000 historic artifacts recovered from the excavation of the steamboat Bertrand, which sank in 1865. The collection provides one of the most significant assemblages of Civil War era artifacts in the Missouri River region. The DeSoto Visitor Center exhibits much of the collection and contains interpretive displays on the historical development of the Missouri River Basin, the ecological impacts of that development, and the natural history of the area and its wildlife.

Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge (Mound City, Missouri, 660-442-3187). Visitors can attend Bald Eagle Days in December, featuring live eagle shows and guided tours of the refuge's 2,300 bald eagles. Squaw Creek has a 10-mile, self-guided auto tour route that is a great chance to enjoy wildlife from the comfort of a vehicle. Visitors can take one of three hiking trails: Eagle Overlook, a 1.5-mile round trip meanders into the refuge's two largest wetlands; Loess Bluff Trail, a half-mile round trip that climbs 200 feet on rock steps hand-laid by the Civilian Conservation Corps and gives a panoramic view of the refuge; and Callow Memorial Trail, a 1/2 mile round trip for physically challenged visitors that leads to the base of the Loess Bluff grasslands. The refuge is a major stopover for waterfowl, with more than 500,000 birds in the fall.

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge (Zimmerman, Minnesota, 612-389-3323) is a particularly good spot for eagle viewing. An extensive network of shallow lakes that freeze and grow short of oxygen in the winter mean a seasonal fish kill that provides easy feeding for bald eagles in the spring, when groups descend to eat their fill. Hundreds of eagles are drawn to the refuge. Although their numbers are especially strong in the spring, some eagles are there almost 11 months each year.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (Ridgefield, Washington, 360-887-4106) The refuge is home to four nesting pair of bald eagles, but dozens more drop by in the winter, feeding on waterfowl and fish from nearby Columbia River. The birds are usually easily visible from December through March and sometimes beyond, depending on the Columbia River salmon runs. The state of Washington has one of the largest nesting populations of eagles within the contiguous United States.

Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge (Union City, Tennessee, 901-538-2481) hosts between 150 and 200 bald eagles from December through mid-January and sometimes, through February, as the birds take advantage of the thousands of ducks and geese wintering on the 15,000-acre Reelfoot Lake. While the refuge is closed in the winter to give waterfowl a chance to rest, two refuge observation decks remain open and accommodate a large number of visitors attracted by the yearly eagle influx.

North Platte National Wildlife Refuge (Scottsbluff, Nebraska, 308-635-7851). Bald eagles have successfully nested on the refuge each year since 1992. The 1992 nest was the second successful nest in the state in more than 100 years. Created as a sanctuary for migrating birds, the refuge is open in December for Bald Eagle Viewing Days. Spotting scopes are set up along the lake for visitors to view the dozen or so bald eagles that take advantage of the masses of migrating birds.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (Soldotna, Alaska, 907-262-7021). With a statewide population of between 50,000 and 70,000 bald eagles, much of Alaska is eagle country. In fact, visitors are likely to see these majestic birds anywhere in the coastal south-central or southeastern portions of the state, including downtown Anchorage. For a special eagle-viewing experience, however, try floating through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in June or early July when the mighty king salmon return to their birth waters to spawn. Visitors will see hunting birds hovering high overhead, and both mature and immature eagles perched in trees lining the banks above this world-class fishery. The waters of the Kenai River are beautiful, turned emerald green by their cargo of glacial silt. While visitors enjoy eagle-watching adventure, they also have a good chance of hooking into one of the river's legendary kings, the largest of which approach 100 pounds.

Fascinating Bald Eagle Facts

  • The phrase "eagle eye" describes the highly developed visual ability of bald eagles, which can spot a moving rabbit almost a mile away. An eagle, flying at 1,000 feet altitude, can spot prey across almost three square miles.
  • Before European settlers sailed to America's shores, there may have been 500,000 bald eagles on the continent. Their population fell to endangered levels of fewer than 420 pairs in the lower 48 states by the early 1960s. Today, there are more than 6,400 nesting pairs.
  • Bald eagles can fly about 65 miles per hour. They can soar to altitudes of 10,000 feet, staying aloft for hours using natural wind currents and thermal updrafts.
  • Bald eagles mate for life, and will only choose another mate if its faithful companion dies. Courting often involves spectacular aerial displays of diving and eagles locking talons.
  • Although bald eagles may range over great distances, they usually return to next within 100 miles of where they were raised.
  • Bald eagles make their new nests an average of two feet deep and five feet across. Eventually, some nests can reach 10 feet wide and weigh as much as 4,000 pounds.
Last updated: October 28, 2010