In their new book Wildlife Watching in America's National Parks: A Seasonal Guide -- out this month -- National Park Service veterans Gary W. Vequist and Daniel S. Licht, focus on 12 animals that have been imperiled and at risk, but are now protected within the National Park System.
For the month of February, Vequist and Licht narrow in on the bald eagles of the Mississippi River.
What’s so great about the bald eagle? For one thing, it’s our country’s national symbol. Our Founding Fathers were very impressed by the power, beauty, and grandeur of the bird—it would be the perfect symbol of American ideals.
Despite the eagle being an American symbol, hunters and trappers have almost eliminated it in the past—shooting, trapping, poisoning, and persecuting it. When a societal shift occurred concerning wildlife, laws were passed to help protect the eagle and other imperiled species. Now, the bald eagle is not only a national symbol but also a wildlife conservation and environmental symbol.
Where is the best place to view bald eagles? The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Minnesota. Established in 1988, this new breed of National Park Service is a 72-mile-long park that lies between the busy city life of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Although it’s located near civilization, the area is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife and has countless opportunities to view them.
Because there are so many outdoor activities available there, Vequist and Licht suggest checking out the park’s web page for a list of activities by season or by starting out at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The museum boasts dozens of galleries and exhibits specifically on the Mississippi River, that provide additional information on the region's wildlife, ecology, and history.
What is the best season for viewing bald eagles? During the winter months, bald eagles and waterfowl are the prime wildlife-viewing attraction. Vequist and Licht explain that these wintering bald eagles can be found anywhere in the park where there is open water. They note to look for them soaring overhead, perched in tall trees, or standing on the river ice. One of the great things about watching bald eagles during the winter is that there is hardly any other wildlife to watch!
If you would like to read more about viewing Bald Eagles, Gray Wolves, Black Bears, Sea Turtles, Gray Whales in national parks, read Wildlife Watching in America’s National Parks: A Seasonal Guide (TAMU Press, 2013).