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The Eagle Capital of the Midwest: Why Bald Eagles Flock to Grafton, IL


Bald Eagle near Grafton, Illinois
A bald eagle soars in the sky above

Welcome to Grafton, Illinois, home to one of the largest populations of bald eagles in the country –right along the banks of the Mississippi River. If you're a bird enthusiast or just looking to experience a unique natural phenomenon, you've come to the right place.


I've had the pleasure of watching these magnificent birds soar overhead for as long as I can remember, and I'm always excited to share the reasons why so many bald eagles choose to call this area home during the winter months. So, let's explore what drives these birds to the midwest region.


First and foremost, the Mississippi River provides a rich source of food for the eagles, which is essential for their survival. The river is home to a variety of fish species, including catfish, carp, and sturgeon, that the eagles feed on. During the winter, when the water levels are low, the eagles are able to access more fish and therefore have an ample food supply. Eagles especially love the Mississippi River during the winter because of the lack of human disturbance. The bald eagle is a sensitive bird and is easily disturbed by human activity. In the winter months, when the river is quieter and there are fewer boats, the eagles are able to hunt and roost undisturbed. This lack of human disturbance allows the eagles to thrive and to establish territories along the river.


A look at the Mississippi River during the winter

Another factor that attracts bald eagles to the Mississippi River near Grafton is the sheltered environment provided by the river's geography. The town is located in the River Bend area, where the river takes a sharp turn, creating a natural barrier against the harsh winter winds. This makes it easier for the eagles to hunt and feed, as they do not have to face the challenges posed by inclement weather.


In addition to providing a source of food and shelter, the geography of Grafton and the surrounding landscape also offers ample space for the eagles to build their nests and roost. These birds of prey are known for their large nests, which can weigh up to a ton and measure several feet in diameter. The Mississippi River and the surrounding forests provide the perfect habitat for the eagles to build and maintain their nests, ensuring their survival. Grafton is also located in a temperate zone, which experiences moderate temperatures and limited snowfall during the winter months. This climate provides the eagles with more consistent nesting weather and protects their food supply, as the fish do not die off in large numbers during the winter months, which makes it easier for the birds to hunt and feed.


A bald eagle perched above its nest in a tree

Another reason why so many bald eagles choose to live along the Mississippi River near Grafton is the presence of other bald eagles. Eagles are highly territorial birds and will often establish territories near other eagles, especially during the winter months when food is scarce. As a result, the Mississippi River near Grafton has become a hub for bald eagles, with the birds congregating in large numbers to take advantage of the abundant food and sheltered environment.


The Mississippi River is also home to several protected areas, such as the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, which provide habitat for the bald eagles. These protected areas are managed to ensure that the eagles have suitable nesting and roosting sites, as well as a stable food supply. Additionally, these protected areas provide a safe space for the eagles to nest and raise their young, away from human disturbance.


A southern view of the Mississippi River as seen from Aerie's Resort

As a native Midwesterner, I can tell you that there's nothing quite like the sight of a bald eagle in flight. These birds have a wingspan of up to 7 feet, and they glide through the air with grace and power. Whether you're watching them hunt, soar, or roost, observing bald eagles is an experience that you'll never forget.


In conclusion, if you're looking to experience the beauty and majesty of bald eagles in their natural habitat, a visit to the Mississippi River near Grafton, Illinois, is a must. With its rich food source, sheltered environment, ample space for nesting and roosting, and temperate climate, this area is one of the best places in the country to observe and admire these magnificent birds of prey. So, come on down and see for yourself why the bald eagles of Grafton are a true natural wonder.


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