The show has begun. more than 100 bald eagles have recently been spotted along the Fox River, from Lake Winnebago to De Pere. These huge, majestic birds, along with other birds of prey, annually wing into our area during winter. This eagle was spotted last week at the 1000 Islands Environmental Center in Kaukauna. / Robert Zimmer/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Watching the river, a trio of majestic bald eagles shared a single bare cottonwood along the sweeping waters. Two mature adults and an immature bird scanned the rushing waters, keen eyes alert for passing fish, dead or alive.
Every so often, one of the birds would catch sight of a fish being swept along in the current, quickly lifting from its perch on powerful wings and diving to the rapids below, snaring its prey in tremendous yellow talons and rising back to feed among the branches.
The annual arrival of scores of bald eagles to the shores of the Fox River has begun, with more than 100 birds spotted New Year’s Day between Menasha and De Pere.
As I made my way along the river in the first below-zero temperatures of the season on New Year’s Day, the number of eagles concentrated along open patches of water continued to grow. At Jefferson Park in Menasha, four of the giant birds cruised the waterway, creating a stir as nervous waterfowl took to the sky to attempt to confuse the hungry birds of prey.
Further north, three eagles perched along the frozen shoreline of Little Lake Butte des Morts at the Wild Ones WILD Center, their wild, haunting cries piercing the early morning sunshine.
River of eagles
At 1000 Islands Environmental Center, Kaukauna, where the river is at its strongest and open water rushes through many channels, man-made and natural, eagles typically congregate in large numbers along the rapids.
In some trees, up to a dozen eagles perched regally over the river, gathered here to feed on the rich abundance of fish, as well as waterfowl. An eagle will not hesitate to snag a duck, or even an injured or unsuspecting goose, from the water if he is hungry enough.
It was a thrill to watch a mature bird snatch a passing fish from the water and return to a low perch along shore to begin to feed. At first, the eagle attempted to swallow the large fish whole, but quickly discovered that wouldn’t work, and set forth pinning the bird to the branch and tearing it apart with its powerful, hooked beak.
Younger birds, still wearing their largely brown immature plumage and lacking the bright white head and tail of the adults, are just as skilled as their parents at fishing, snagging passing fish and winging high into the trees to feed.
Along with the return of the eagles, many other northern species of birds make their way south into our area to spend the winter months.
The winter of 2012-13 has been a milestone year for area birdwatchers as a number of birds of prey and other species have set up winter homes in our area.
For over a month, the northern hawk owl I previously wrote about in December has thrilled birders from around the state who have flocked to Door County to view this unusual bird.
Along the lakeshore and in rural Outagamie County, snowy owls have been spotted in numerous areas, their huge size and salt-and-pepper plumage making them striking birds.
In Appleton, a rare Townsend’s Solitaire, relative to the robin and bluebird, has been consistently spotted for weeks in a northside business park, feasting on berries along with hundreds of waxwings.
Other unusual winter visitors to the state include no fewer than 10 Varied Thrush, a large, robin-like bird with striking reddish-orange and black plumage; Hoary Redpolls, which are fun, colorful red and brown finches, and Pine Grosbeaks, related to the Northern Cardinal. The male is bright rosy pink, the female dressed with gray and green feathering.
— Robert Zimmer: 920-993-1000, ext. 7154, or firstname.lastname@example.org