Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Annual Eagle Tour Induces Overwhelming Bliss and Astonishment Among Participants in Southeast Michigan
Midwest Region, January 28, 2017
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The lucky group showing off their matching eagle tour hats in front of the warm water where the eagles hang out.
The lucky group showing off their matching eagle tour hats in front of the warm water where the eagles hang out. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Wildlife Observation!
Wildlife Observation! - Photo Credit: USFWS
A happy and well-fed group of eagles in the trees above the water.
A happy and well-fed group of eagles in the trees above the water. - Photo Credit: USFWS

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, along with the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance and DTE Energy of Southeast Michigan, hosted the seventh annual eagle tour at the DTE Monroe Power plant on January 28, 2017. This annual event has become so popular that a lottery takes place to give visitors a fair chance to win a spot. With more than 1,900 groups that applied, only 60 people were chosen to join the tour. 

The popularity of viewing eagles is likely due to the fact that for many decades American bald eagles were an extremely rare site in the Lower 48. The eagle has made an incredible comeback since the agricultural use of the pesticide DDT was banned in 1972 and many protections were put into place under the Endangered Species Act. In 2007, eagles were delisted and classified as recovered. Still though, many yearn for a chance to see these birds in the wild.

Many of the participants on the tour had never seen an eagle in their life and left in awe and gratitude. For others, taking photos and seeking eagles has become a hobby for whom the eagle tour was just another fun eagle outing. One thing all participants had in common, they felt incredibly lucky to get to experience the eagle tour and share this memory with others. 

So what exactly is this annual eagle tour? And why do we anticipate large numbers of eagles in one spot? That’s where the partnership between the refuge and DTE comes into place. The DTE Energy Power Plant, located on Lake Erie, produces a warm water discharge. This creates a refuge for eagles, as well as other species, to come and enjoy a non-frozen buffet when Lake Erie has iced over for the season. The warm water attracts eagles to fish for shad and other fish. During especially frigid years, the numbers of eagles increase. This year we have had some mild weeks leading up to the tour and there was some concern that the eagle numbers would be low. Even still, with less ice out on the lake, we saw around 50 to 60 eagles on each tour. 

Naturalist and volunteer Dorothy McLeer has been a part of the tour since the beginning. She always starts off the tour by teaching participants what she considers to be the most fascinating aspects of these magnificent birds. 
When asked about her experience being a part of this special event McLeer said,

“My first reflection over the past seven years is that every participant, nearly to a person, no matter their place of residence, social standing, or political point of view, is happy to be there - and after the year that America’s been through, that's saying something! This is an equal opportunity event that becomes a bonding experience. They are being catered to and made to feel special, thanks to the efforts of each agency and each person involved in this program. In the early years, they were happy to get on the list, and now they're happy to be chosen out of the thousands of people in the lottery; they're happy that they're going to be treated to a unique experience, and happy that the unique experience is watching the symbol of our nation in a form of its habitat, albeit a massive power plant, behaving in a natural, wild way. It's an eye opening experience and helps people look at nature and wildlife as they interface with industry, revealing a potential coexistence between the two. It reconnects people with where they live, which is the main focus of my job!”    

If you didn’t make it into the tour this year you can always apply next year. The eagle tour lottery registration opens each Thanksgiving week and remains open until the first week of January. This gives people plenty of time to register. 

For questions please contact Jennifer Braatz at jennifer_braatz@fws.gov or by calling at 734-362-7736.

Learn more about Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/detroit_river/

Contact Info: Jennifer Braatz, 734-288-6459, jennifer_braatz@fws.gov
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