Sure, it's fun to watch the hungry songbirds devour sunflower seeds in the backyard feeder from the warm comfort of home. But don't let winter keep you inside too long. Your local county conservation departments have some events that will show you some of the area's bigger birds, sometimes even up close. 

Without a doubt, January goes to the eagles. With eagle watches scheduled in Burlington, Keokuk, and Montrose the weekend of January 21, there's ample opportunity to get out and see our national bird. Lots of them, actually. 

We are lucky to live in a place like this. Where viewing eagles is as easy as a trip downtown or down the road to the nearest riverfront access. Where literally hundreds of one of the nation’s largest birds of prey congregate for our viewing pleasure through the winter. There are many people in many places that don’t have such opportunities. Where seeing an eagle is a rarity, worthy of a photo and a social post extolling what a lucky day such an occurrence imparts.

Clean off that camera lens and head out to one of these events next weekend.

In Burlington, the annual Eagle Watch, hosted by Des Moines County Conservation, starts at the Port of Burlington at 10:00 AM on January 21st. The free, all ages event begins with a presentation about the iconic bald eagle at the Port of Burlington, then participants drive over to Lock and Dam 18, one of the best places in the county to see eagles.

Dress for the weather and bring binoculars if you have them. If not, conservation staff will have some to loan out. The event concludes around noon. 

For those wanting to get in more eagle (or other bird) watching time on their own outside of the Eagle Watch event, Starr's Cave Nature Center has binoculars for rent. Call the nature center at (319) 753-5808 to set up a time to pick up a pair. 

When it comes to eagle watching, though, our southerly neighbors in Lee County go all out. Bald Eagle Appreciation Days is a full weekend of eagle-centric events beginning Saturday, January 21st and headquartered at the First Christian Church, 3476 Main St. in Keokuk. Now in its 39th year, the event features programs by the Wild Bird Sanctuary which includes a close-up look at a real bald eagle, an insect zoo from Iowa State University, and other attractions including nature displays by Lee County Conservation. Trained spotters will be set up on the riverfront with scopes to assist with viewing the wild eagles over the river. 

On Sunday the 22nd, the event moves up to Montrose Landing at 203 N First St. in Montrose and features more hands-on activities, meals, animal displays and presentations. 

January certainly goes to the eagles, but February goes to a different raptor and you have to venture out at night to interact with this one. 

February, with all its candy and hearts, goes to the owls, who, fittingly, are particularly amorous this time of year. Barred owls are active during this part of winter and use sound and body language as part of their mate-attraction rituals. Thus, you can venture out at night to hear and sometimes even see owls throughout February. Des Moines County Conservation has "Owl Prowls" scheduled February 2, 9, and 23. Lee County Conservation has one on the calendar for February 4. 

These Naturalist-led programs begin with some neat presentations about these owls followed by a hike into the woods with owl calls.

Playing the distinctive barred owl call “Who-cooks, who-cooks, who-cooks-for-yooouuuu” will often illicit owl responses and sometimes even result in owls flying close in hopes of a loving encounter of the owl sort. It is Valentine's month after all. The barred owl courtship “dance” includes bobbing and bowing heads, raising wings, and calling to each other. Sometimes, the male even brings food for the female in the form of a freshly killed rodent.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

These owl prowls are free but limited in space so pre-registration is required. Find out more online about Des Moines County Conservation events at For Lee County Conservation events, hit up their Facebook page at

published Friday, January 13, 2023

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