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Experts: Mild winter has allowed eagles to migrate farther

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A bald eagle
A bald eagle
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Midwest Region via Creative Commons

Winter is usually a great time for eagle viewing in southwestern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota, as the birds congregate on the open water and food sources along the Mississippi River.

But not this year, when warmer temperatures and scattered snowfall has given the birds more far-flung options. There are "a ton of eagles flying around and chasing each other" in the Coulee Region as nesting and breeding season continues, but it's a smaller amount than usual because the less harsh winter conditions haven't forced eagles to migrate to the area, said Anna Christenson, a naturalist instructor at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn.

"Typically in the winter, the cold and snow cover forces them to be here, because the Mississippi River stays open, and it is like a buffet where we are," she told the La Crosse Tribune. 

Staffers at the center have experienced years when there are so many eagles that they had to quit counting on some days. People who visit the center this winter will still see eagles, just not such a large number of them.

Organizers of the annual Bald Eagle Appreciation Days in Prairie du Chien, Wis., expect plenty of eagles in the area when the event takes place on Friday and Saturday.

Dennis Kirschbaum, a retired warden or the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who now volunteers at Effigy Mounds National Monument and Park in Iowa, said he spotted about 50 eagles around Winneshiek Slough in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge on Monday morning. He said he saw another 30 eagles circling the sky over St. Feriole Slough in Prairie du Chien, across the Mississippi River from Effigy Mounds National Monument and Park.

Eagle numbers have increased in the past couple of weeks, after late-season snowfall prompted the birds to congregate near the Mississippi River for food, Kirschbaum said.

"Bald eagles will be really close and easy to see this weekend," he said.