Open water, shad attract many eagles to Red Wing
Frigid temperatures may be bad news for most outdoor enthusiasts, but it's good news for bird watchers.
The extreme chill has forced bald eagles to focus their attention on the few remaining areas of open water, including Colvill Park in Red Wing and the stretch of Mississippi River from Reads Landing to Wabasha.
"I couldn't count them (Friday) because they were so active," said local naturalist Bruce Ause. "I figure there were at least 100" eagles at Colvill Park, with up to 25 in a single tree.
Until a few days ago, Ause said, there were patches of open water in the backwaters and eagles could spread out in their search for food. "It started to tighten up" when the temperatures plunged.
"Colvill Park has the warm water from the steam plant," which makes the spot attractive to birds for two reasons. Not only is the water open for fishing, Ause said, but the warm water is also a destination for shad, a rough fish that's not very hardy and heads for warmer water when the temperature drops.
"There's thousands of them in there," Ause said.
Scott Mehus, program specialist at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, said in that area the open water expanded from about 5 miles to 15 miles after Christmas, when temperatures were mild. Also, snow melted, he said, enabling sharp-eyed eagles to forage for food on land.
"Bald eagles are opportunistic predators," he said.
In winter they try to conserve energy by taking advantage of easy prey.
But snow returned -- followed by plummeting temps -- which froze up some of that open water. And the eagles again are more concentrated near Wabasha and Red Wing.
They look for dead fish that float up to the surface, Mehus said, plus they also may be seen trying to snatch fish caught by mergansers and goldeneyes.
Those diving ducks are able to go down and fetch live fish.
In addition to Colvill Park, eagles also can be seen in trees in a nearby neighborhood, Ause said. At night, they roost in a coulee on Wilkinson Street.
They are able to get out of the wind in the deep valley, he said. In the morning, when the sun has brought some warmth, they just head on down to Colvill Park for breakfast.
"They are not early risers," Mehus said. This time of year with these temperatures, he said, mid-morning to mid-afternoon is a good time to spot eagles, from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.