QCA Sees Significant Increase in Wintering Eagle Population - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

QCA Sees Significant Increase in Wintering Eagle Population

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It's been a long time since the Rock Island Arsenal Lock and Dam has seen as many eagles as it has this year.

As of this week, the weekly winter count at the lock and dam by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers averages about 87 eagles a week right now.

That's the highest average for these first eight weeks of the count the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has in its online records that date back to 2003.

Eagle experts explain we have this year's extreme cold and a steadily growing eagle population to thank for all these extra visitors.

"The number of eagles that are along the upper portion of the Mississippi this year with the locks and dams has ranged anywhere from maybe just a few eagles all the way up - we had numbers almost as high as 1,200," said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Natural Resource Specialist Samantha Heilig.

The Corps says much of that has to do with the extremely cold weather we've been having. More bodies of water are frozen - forcing the eagles to flock to places like locks and dams where they can find fish in the unfrozen water below the dam.

Then when the river begins to thaw, the birds spread out.

"They are territorial and they don't like to hang out if they don't have to," said Heilig.

That sentiment is shared up the river in a roomy 6-feet-wide nest that's better known as the home of Liberty and Justice, the eagles seen on the Alcoa Eaglecam.

"One of the things we're seeing a lot more of this year are juvenile eagles that are stopping by the tree and spending a little bit of time in the nest," said John Riches, Public Affairs Manager for Alcoa. "And so as long as liberty and justice aren't around they feel free to stop in."

However, Riches said the juvenile eagles typically don't stick around the nest for long as Liberty and Justice often chase them away.

And while the patriotic pair might not welcome all the extra visitors this year - Alcoa sees the situation in a different light.

"It's clearly a good news story for the comeback of the bald eagle," said Riches.

Bald Eagles were taken off the endangered species list in 2007, but they are still federally protected.

Watchers say more eagles spend the winter in Illinois than any other state, besides Alaska.

More than 3,000 eagles are said to be living in Illinois right now.