December 1st, was the first day that the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council began its annual winter count of bald eagles. The eagles come to this area because of the open water on the Wisconsin River and the many wooded valleys which give the eagle’s ideal habitat and protection from the cold and snow of winter. Most of an eagle’s diet is fish and the river’s open water allows them to regularly eat fish. I’ve been seeing eagles for much of November with the colder weather that we’ve been having here and the freezing up of most waters in northern Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ontario. The bald eagles have been wintering in the Sauk Prairie for decades and they bring many visitors to this area to view these magnificent birds.
The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council is a “local grassroots organization working to protect, enhance and maintain Bald Eagle habitat in the Sauk Prairie area through education, research, and management activities. We work with schools, area residents, and the community to keep the eagles returning every winter. We feel privileged to share the river valley with these magnificent birds and want to make sure that they will be here for future generations.”
The Eagle Council starts its winter counting December 1st and count every other Sunday till March when most of the wintering eagles return to their nesting locations. There are a few eagles that nest and stay in the area year-round, but most of the eagles are just “winter visitors” here to gorge themselves on the many fish species in the Wisconsin River and protect themselves from the cold of winter in our deep and wooded valleys along the river. I’ve helped with the winter counting for many years and grown to love anything that I can do for these wonderful birds of prey!
The Ferry Bluff Habitat Committee is the most active group which counts the eagles in winter, providing educational talks and programs, and work with land use issues as they arise – coordinating landowners, local governments, and any other groups. A past project which was done from 2001- 2005 was the Radio Tracking Project. All of the work that the Eagle Council has done has been used by many different groups like the Sauk Prairie Chamber of Commerce to the State Department of Transportation as they just completed the expansion of Highway 12 coming into the community to landowners and residents concerned with the continued health and safety of our winter guests. The research done by the FBEC is crucial for the continued presence of wintering eagles in the Sauk Prairie area.
Every winter the FBEC hosts a Bald Eagle Watching Days where the bald eagles are the center of attraction for the many people who come to Prairie du Sac and Sauk City to view the eagles and learn more about them. There are activities for the entire family from children’s activities, to a raptor show from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, seminars, photo exhibits, and free bus tours to view eagles in the surrounding area. This year, the Bald Eagle Watching Days is January 17th and 18th, 2014. Mark that weekend on your calendar! For complete information go to www.ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org/eagledays . There also are bus tours to view eagles in the area every Saturday in January and February for $5.00 a person. The weekend of the Bald Eagle Watching Days the bus tours are free. The tours leave from the Cedarberry Inn on Highway 12 and leave at 10:00 am. Reservations are recommended, so call the Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-68EAGLE (1-800-683-2453) for a seat since the buses fill up fast.
Every Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm there are FBEC volunteers at the Overlook in Prairie du Sac to help you view eagles, answer questions, show you how to use the spotting scope, and help visitors find other eagle viewing locations in the immediate area. Volunteers are always needed and the Eagle Council is always looking for new members to this great organization.
There have been eagles in our area for a few weeks and as the winter worsens more eagles come to the Sauk Prairie area and the open water of the Wisconsin River. I counted yesterday with Donna and Bill Stehling, who are usually at the Sugar Loaf site on the east side of the Wisconsin River with me and Professor Tim Moermond. There are 10 different locations in the area where volunteers count eagles as the fly into their roosts at night. The warmer weather and lack of snow has eagles spread out now, but as winter progresses they will gather in the immediate area below the Prairie du Sac Dam. Sunday, we counted 5 eagles roosting at Sugar Loaf with two adult eagles and three immature eagles. Eagles don’t mature and change colors till they are 4 or 5 years old. The site we counted at Sunday holds the record for one site with over 100 eagles counted one Sunday a few years ago.
Check out the Council’s website at www.ferrybluffeaglecouncil.org for more information. This is a great learning experience for the entire family and a wonderful way to spend a weekend day. Also, never approach an eagle. Stay in your car and use it as a blind. You never want to scare an eagle off a roost because they then have to burn up calories they need during winter’s cold. An eagle spends over 90% of its time roosting, not flying and feeding in the winter.