This entire region of Illinois is one of the prime winter nesting sites in the Midwest for American bald eagles. Plan your visit around one of these events.
Southwest Illinois comes alive at the turn of the New Year with events dedicated to spotting and celebrating the United States’ national bird, the bald eagle. This entire region of the state is one of the prime winter nesting sites in the Midwest for American bald eagles, and this year’s bird-watching kicks off on Jan. 6, 2024, with Eagle Fest.
This annual event, held at Flock Food Truck Park in downtown Alton near the banks of the Mississippi River, brings together birders of all ages for festival fun. Although it may seem the weather is too chilly to have an outdoor party, the timing is all about when eagles (as well as other magnificent birds like white swans) flock to the region.
Eagle Fest — complete with live music, food trucks, fire pits and s’mores kits — also has its own star guest, Liberty, an American bald eagle accompanied by her handler from the World Bird Sanctuary for a live eagle meet-and-greet.
Travelers can also head out to spot eagles independently. When driving along the Mississippi River, remember to look not just up but also down, as eagles often plop down on the ice waiting for fish to jump. Board one of the shuttles leaving Grafton and Alton, two river ports with brick-lined historic downtowns just 17 miles apart, for guided sightings to learn more about the birds and why this area is prime for nesting.
Bald Eagle Days at the nearly 8,000-acre Pere Marquette State Park, the largest in Illinois, offer eagle-sighting options, including sessions to learn about the birds’ habits and how to track them followed by a ranger-led observational drive. Flock Food Truck Park: 210 Ridge St., Alton, Illinois 62002, riversandroutes.com; Pere Marquette State Park, 13112 Visitor Center Ln. Grafton, Illinois 62047, dnr.illinois.gov
Issue: Fall/Winter 2023