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Posted 2/16/2018

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By Sarah P. Bennett

An adult bald eagle takes flight in pursuit of shad. The Dalles Lock & Dam. Army Corps of Engineers photo, 2018.
Bald eagles perch in bare trees beneath The Dalles Lock & Dam as they hunt for fish. Army Corps of Engineers photo, 2018.
THE DALLES, Ore. – Eagles soared to new heights this year! As the Philadelphia Eagles preyed upon the New England Patriots in their first-ever Super Bowl win, bird watchers tailgated at Seufert Park and The Dalles Dam Visitor Center to witness a winter gathering of bald eagles. 

What started out as just a few eagles using the green space below the dam has grown into a staple of winter tourism in the Columbia River Gorge. 

“It is not uncommon to see 50 to 60 eagles roosting in the trees,” said Park Ranger Amber Tilton. “They like the green space below the dam because it is away from people, quiet and secluded.”

With the growing number of eagles at the dam, there’s been an increase in visitors migrating to Seufort Park in the off season. To accommodate these winter sight-seers, park rangers opened the visitor center on weekends for the month of January, providing a refuge for travelers: a place to warm up after a chilly day of wildlife watching and opportunities to learn more about raptors and other migratory birds. Park rangers answered questions, assisted visitors in using newly installed spotting scopes, and taught basic bird identification tips and tricks. The eagles drew so many people to the The Dalles, that visitation rivaled spring and summer days.

“‘Why are the eagles here?’ is the most common question we hear,” said Ranger Tilton. 

For birds of prey, like the bald eagle, food can be hard to find in the winter. Smaller rivers and streams, especially those farther north, often freeze over in winter. The temperate climate at The Dalles and the constant current of the Columbia River keep the area open for feeding. Eagles come to hunt for fish, like shad, which are plentiful in the river. 

“Basically, the Columbia River is the largest grocery store around, and it’s open in the winter,” explained Tilton.

With the help of a park ranger, a young visitor tries out a few of the bald eagle's most noticeable adaptations: talons for hunting, beaks for tearing and wings for flying. Army Corps of Engineers photo, 2017.
The highlight of the winning season was the eighth annual Eagle Watch. The best-attended yet, more than 2,000 visitors flocked to the dam to watch the bald eagles and enjoy other educational opportunities. The Rowena Wildlife Clinic and The Discovery Center supported the event again, providing an interactive experience with live birds of prey including a red-tailed hawk, an American kestrel and a great-horned owl. Young visitors got to spread their wings and experience nature in their back yards. 

“The combination of raptor education and the opportunity to bird watch and see wintering bald eagles is truly a unique recreation experience,” said Tilton. 

A new quarterback in Philadelphia and new educational opportunities at The Dalles have opened up the potential of even more great things to come, for eagles’ fans of all types. But like Patriots fans everywhere, the park rangers and visitors at The Dalles are already looking forward to next season.