The majestic bald eagles that summer in Canada like to winter in slightly warmer climes-the still-chilly area of the Mississippi River that cuts through the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa.
Some 2,500 eagles spend the winter in the Quad Cities area, lured there by the all-you-can-eat buffet of stunned fish around the lock and dams and the perching and nesting possibilities provided by the surrounding forests.
The best eagle viewing spots in the Quad Cities of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Ill., are at Sunset Park in Rock Island and Credit Island in Davenport. Bring binoculars, dress warmly and teach kids not to frighten the birds into flying away, unnecessarily expending energy they need to conserve in order to maintain their body heat.
The eagle population-and the number visiting the Quad Cities-has been growing; the bird was removed from the endangered list in 2007.
The Quad Cities will host its 25th annual Bald Eagle Days Jan. 6-8 at the QCCA Expo Center, 2621 4th Ave., Rock Island. The event includes live eagle programs and birds of prey demonstrations. Then hop on a shuttle bus to Sunset Marina, where the Quad City Audubon Society will have spotting scopes set up to help you and your kids get an upclose look at the eagles. (Hours: 4-8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $5, $1 kids.)
If you can’t make the big weekend event, visit any weekend Jan. 14-Feb. 19. The Mississippi River Visitor Center on Arsenal Island, between Davenport and Rock Island, offers free eagle watches and Clock Tower tours on those Saturdays and Sundays at 9:30 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling (309) 794-5338.
When you need to warm up, head to the John Deere Pavilion in Moline or one of the Quad Cities’ impressive museums, including the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science and the Figge Art Museum. All are oversized attractions for such small towns.