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Bird watchers: Eagle count up along upper Mississippi River

By Benjamin Yount 
Illinois News Network

Good news for bird watchers and environmentalists: Illinois’ bald eagle population is rebounding.

Mike McKean is one of the park rangers in the Quad Cities who counts the eagles. He says they are seeing more birds as compared to the past couple of years.

“I would say the largest jump in numbers is down near Lock and Dam 18, which is around the Burlington/Gladstone area,” McKean said. “They had a couple of weeks this year where they were reporting 500 eagles for one count in the middle of the week.”

One reason for the higher numbers this year, McKean said, is cold weather to the north froze a number of rivers, and the eagles came to Illinois to find places where they can fish.

McKean said eagles bring a lot of people to the river to watch the birds, but he said there is a more important reason to count Illinois’ eagle population.

“When you’re talking bald eagles, you’re talking the top of the food chain,” McKean said. “It’s important to track eagles because it will give you an idea of what the the rest of the [river] population is.”

McKean said the eagles eat fish, the fish can tell you about stream health, and stream health is an indicator of soil health.

McKean said February is prime eagle watching season.

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