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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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The Bald Eagle in Oklahoma

Wintering Eagles in Oklahoma

The bald eagle is a migratory species. Those birds that nest in the Great Lakes states and adjacent areas in Canada fly south to find food for the winter, and many find their way to Oklahoma. Eagles begin arriving here in late November and December. Their numbers peak in January and February, and most birds have left for their northern breeding grounds by the end of March.

In contrast to their territorial behavior during the breeding season, bald eagles become quite sociable in winter. They roost communally at night in trees near a reliable food source, with the same trees traditionally used each year. Up to 200 birds have been known to use a single night roost in Oklahoma. Wintering birds often use different sites for feeding and nighttime roosts. A bird occasionally may travel up to 50 miles one way between its feeding area and its night roost, but most feeding areas are located near the roost. Bald eagles tend to feed early in the moming and may not feed every day. They usually detect prey while soaring or from a high perch.

GIF - Roosting Eagles

Years ago, many of the bald eagles that wintered in Oklahoma lived on the prairies and fed on carrion found there, particularly buffalo. As the state was settled and land use changed, buffalo disappeared from the prairies and wintering bald eagles no longer congregated here in such large numbers. However, with the construction of numerous reservoirs during the second half of this century, the amount of habitat suitable for the birds increased dramatically. Major reservoirs provide areas of flooded timber that make ideal eagle perches. Open water for fishing usually can be found below a dam even when other areas freeze.

Where you can view bald eagles: All of Oklahoma's major rivers and reservoirs support wintering eagles. They tend to concentrate below reservoir dams, especially where fish that have passed through hydropower turbines are injured or dying. The following areas have good spots for viewing eagles in the winter, and all have public-accesible lands. Check with local officials at these sites to be sure what areas are open to the public.

Each winter the Nongame Wildlife Program coordinates tours to view bald eagles at these and other lakes. To learn more about these tours and Oklahoma's wintering eagles, ask for the Winter Bald Eagle Viewing Guide, available beginning each December, from the Nongame Program.
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