Bald eagles are flocking to Illinois this winter season, making the state a favorite for bird watchers while also providing an economic boost to the state’s small border towns.
According to Ed Cross, director of communications at the Department of Natural Resources, Illinois sees a large influx of bald during the season because the state is prime habitat for the birds.
“We have thousands of bald eagles that are in the state: they migrate from northern states and Canada,” he said. “Illinois’ location, habitat and topography is attractive to bald eagles.”
The bald eagle, the very symbol of this nation, was once declared an endangered species in the U.S. According to Cross, there could be as many as 3,000 bald eagles across the state this winter — a threefold population increase from recent decades.
Consequently, the state is now second only to Alaska in the U.S. for winter bald eagle population.
The combination of frigid temperatures and a larger population of eagles throughout North America makes Illinois a favorite gathering place for eagle watchers
“We have hundreds of thousands of wildlife watchers that enjoy watching these animals in their natural habitat,” Cross said. “Seeing them up close is a pretty majestic thing.”
The influx of tourists and local bird watchers also brings an added economic benefit.
“In some of these small border towns, like Shelbyville, these events actually become fairly important to the economy with the large influx people,” Cross said. “They shop, they buy food, and they spend money on lodging.”
According to Cross, although Illinois’ budget woes have impacted conservation effects, they have not diminished the department’s mission.
“The department continues to work well with the resources we have,” he said. “We have seen a reduction of staff compared to prior administrations. When it comes to protecting and maintaining things, we are certainly working at a level that is still sustainable and we are still getting the job done.”
Eagle-watching season in Illinois generally starts in December and lasts until the birds migrate back north in March.
The Illinois Audubon Society near Starved Rock is hosting an eagle watch weekend, Jan. 27-28.
–Illinois News Network