Iowa is home to many bald eagles, and during the winter months, they seem to be everywhere. Living in Iowa, I continue to see them daily when I am out and about in the thick of winter. Anytime you can find a stream or a lake, look up in the trees. It’s very common to see bald eagles hovering over the landscape below. Eagles are fascinating to watch. They soar high, swoop in fast to grab lunch out of the water, and they are beautiful to watch.
It’s hard to imagine that only a few years ago, the bald eagle was an endangered species. Today, you can enjoy them in many parts of our country, including Iowa. States bordering Iowa, including Illinois, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota also offer incredible opportunities to view eagles. The Midwest is filled with birding experiences that include eagles that are not hard to find. Hop in your car and make the drive. If you enjoy birding, Iowa will not disappoint.
Eagles To Spot In Iowa
Bald and golden eagles are the two most popular species that live in Iowa. The bald eagle, America’s pride and joy, is the most common eagle. It is easily identified by its white head and tail, large yellow bill, and 70- to 90-inch wingspan. The nesting season begins in late February and March. If you see an eagle’s nest, let it be.
Golden eagles are common in Bluff Country in northeast Iowa. They frequent the Lansing area, as well as areas south along the river. Golden eagles are brown with a variable yellow to tawny brown wash over the back of the head and neck. Adult eagles have a faintly banded tail. Their wingspan varies a little from the bald eagle, as they are 80 to 88 inches wide.
Prepare For Eagle Viewing
Any time you are planning a day of eagle viewing in Iowa, you want to be sure you are dressed for the elements. Winter in Iowa is chilly. Dress in layers that include warm gloves and a winter coat. A hat and boots are also necessary in the thick of winter. Invest in a good pair of binoculars, which will make your eagle viewing much more enjoyable. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in your car or visit one of the local diners that are located in one of the towns you are visiting.
1. Lansing, Iowa
Lansing, Iowa, is in the northeast corner of Iowa, near Bluff Country. Make the drive up Mt. Hosmer and enjoy the view of the Mississippi River. It is quite common to see an eagle soar across the river below. Oftentimes, the eagles hover near the lookout area. Take in the view of the river and enjoy the sights. There is no fee to visit Mt. Hosmer, and the road is open (provided the snowplows have cleared it).
2. Effigy Mounds National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument is also in Allamakee County, along with Lansing. This national monument is the state of Iowa’s pride and joy. You can spend hours here hiking the trails that lead to more than 200 Indian mounds that date back hundreds of years.
This National Monument is located 3 miles north of Marquette, Iowa, on Highway 36 parallel to the Mississippi River, making it a great park for eagle watching in Iowa.
3. Pikes Peak State Park
Pikes Peak State Park is a favorite of many eagle enthusiasts all 12 months out of the year. You can walk out to the lookout that overlooks the Mississippi River. I have stood on this lookout for several different months throughout the course of the year. Each time I visit, I see an eagle. Sometimes they are close, and other times they are soaring high above the Mississippi River. The bald eagles stand out, as their white heads are noticeable from any distance. The winter months are prime viewing season because of the eagles’ migratory patterns.
4. Dubuque, Iowa
Dubuque is where Iowa started. It is situated along the Mississippi River in the heart of the eastern part of the state. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the area of Iowa’s Lock and Dam No. 11 is home to around 3,000 bald eagles during the winter months. As you drive this area from December through March, you will see several eagles soaring overhead along the Upper Mississippi River.
5. Clinton, Iowa
Clinton, Iowa, is located on the Mississippi River. Lock and Dam No. 13 is a prime eagle viewing spot on both sides of the river. The Clinton Bald Eagle Watch is held annually on the first Saturday of January. During this time, you can expect to speak with a naturalist and the numerous volunteers that are on hand to answer any of your questions. Dress appropriately and enjoy the occasional views of eagles flying overhead.
6. Muscatine, Iowa
Muscatine sits on the Mississippi River in southeast Iowa. This town is known for pearls and buttons, making it a popular place to view eagles. The downtown area offers parking that sits on the Mississippi River and is a perfect spot to view eagles. The water is open in places, making it a prime place for eagles to sit and grab an occasional fish. Sunrise and sunset are optimal viewing times for spotting eagles. I recently sat in the parking lot that overlooks the river and saw two golden eagles and several bald eagles.
The parking lot makes for an ideal spot for viewing, as you never have to leave your car to see eagles. Grab a pair of binoculars and be ready to enjoy your time in Muscatine. With several restaurants nearby, you can grab a meal in a local diner and enjoy a full day of eagle viewing. Each January, Eagles and Ivories Ragtime Weekend is held. View eagles and listen to internationally renowned musicians that play ragtime music.
7. Quad Cities, Iowa
The Quad Cities sit on the Mississippi River, making it an ideal location for bald eagles to winter. You can view the eagles on the Illinois and Iowa side of the river. Lock and Dam No. 15 at Schwiebert Riverfront Park in Rock Island, Illinois, is one popular viewing place. Sunset Park in Rock Island, Illinois, is another fun place to view eagles. Sylvan Island is another place that eagle enthusiasts enjoy. Brown signs along the road indicate parks, often including a lock and dam. Follow the directions on the brown signs and there’s a good chance you will see a bald eagle or even a golden eagle.
8. Des Moines, Iowa
The downtown Des Moines area is home to numerous bald eagles during the winter months. Bald eagles love fish and the Des Moines River. A prime viewing spot is between the Scott Street Bridge and SE 6th Street Bridge. You can walk the pedestrian lane to view the eagles or sit in your warm car and watch them. It’s not uncommon to see them swoop in and grab a fish from the river. Look up in the trees and you will most likely see one or several bald eagles. Many are passing through the area and some will nest. The white head of the bald eagle makes them fairly easy to spot when you look up.
9. Keokuk, Iowa
Keokuk, Iowa, the southernmost city in Iowa, is an eagle enthusiast’s paradise. You can view bald eagles from Victory Park and the Southside Boat Club in Keokuk. Spotting scopes are available for eagle enthusiasts to view the beautiful birds in their natural habitat. Keokuk Bald Eagle Appreciation Days are held the third weekend in January. The special thing about this event is that bald eagles are celebrated and participants can enjoy woodcarving exhibits and demonstrations, environmental seminars, live bird shows, and pioneer activities for kids including an insect zoo. This is one of several incredible locations that offer other viewing places along the Mississippi River. Drive the Great River Road and you are sure to see several bald eagles soaring high across the skies.
10. Decorah, Iowa
Decorah, Iowa, is home to a world-famous bald eagle nest. The nest sits high in a tree near the Decorah Trout Hatchery in Decorah. There have been eagles at this site since 2002. I have viewed bald eagles in and near this nest at different times throughout the year. The most popular time of year to view the nest in person is once the eggs have hatched, usually at the end of March or the first part of April. You can view this nest, 24 hours, through the livestream camera.
Grab a pizza at Mabe’s in downtown Decorah before you leave town, or better yet, grab a pizza to take with you and sit in your car to view the famous nest. Your chances are pretty good that you will see one in person while you enjoy lunch.