The Bald Eagles are Coming

The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council is a local, grassroots organization working to protect, enhance, and maintain Bald Eagle habitat in the Sauk Prairie area through education, research, and management activities. We work with schools, area residents, and the community to keep the eagles returning every winter. The area residents feel privileged to share the Wisconsin River Valley with these magnificent birds and want to make sure that they will be here for future generations to enjoy.

The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council was founded in 1988 by a small group of environmental and bald eagle enthusiasts. They modeled the group after the Eagle Valley Environmentalists, a similar community group studying eagles along the Mississippi River in Grant County, Wisconsin, for several years.

Our efforts over the years

The Ferry Bluff roosting area, at that time the roost best known to the founders and thought to be the main roost within the Sauk-Prairie habitat area, was designated a State Natural Area under the direction of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council (FBEC) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The area is still managed by the DNR, in conjunction with input from the FBEC.

In 1991, the group hired three interns to map the Sauk Prairie habitat area, identifying roosting, perching and feeding areas. Since that time, a wonderful volunteer force has continued these efforts. What were initially six roosts along 15 miles of river were mapped and counted by 1992. Now, FBEC monitors 15 roosts along 30 miles of river and hundreds of square miles of land off the river.

In 1990, a viewing area was established in the municipal parking lot in Prairie du Sac, overlooking Eagle Island, giving visitors a protected area to view and photograph eagles. The Overlook, is still one of the best areas for visitors to view bald eagles in the Sauk Prairie area. In 1993, a permanent telescope was installed at the Overlook. In 2014, a permanent telescope was installed on the Riverwalk along the Wisconsin River in Sauk City.

In January of 1990, FBEC joined with the Bureau of Endangered Resources in staging Bald Eagle Watching Days, a family-based celebration and educational event of bald eagles in general and specifically bald eagles in the Sauk Prairie area. At that time, Bald Eagle Watching Days were held in the local community center. The popularity of the event led to the addition of speakers and events and it quickly became community-wide. Today, it is a premier winter destination that attracts bald eagle watchers of all ages from throughout Wisconsin and beyond.

FBEC has collaborated with the DNR, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, and local municipalities on a variety of land use and bald eagle habitat issues. This communication continues today, as the FBEC is recognized as a major stakeholder by the DNR, Lower Wisconsin Riverway, and other state and local agencies in any activity affecting the land in the extended habitat area.

Given FBEC’s educational directive, a wide variety of educational materials have been produced over the years. These are both for the public and for use in schools. FBEC maps and records vital eagle habitat information along the Wisconsin River and throughout the extended habitat of the Sauk Prairie area.

Bald Eagles coming back

The extraordinary success of FBEC and other similar groups has helped to bring the bald eagle population back from the declining numbers just 30 years ago. When the group was founded, bald eagle nests were a rarity in the Sauk Prairie habitat area. Today, there are well over 20 nests. With this diversifying habitat, FBEC expanded the focus of its mission from wintering to year-round bald eagle habitat information. FBEC’s new exciting and extended year-round mission is both opening new opportunities and presenting new challenges for the future.

I’ve been a member and volunteer bald eagle counter every other week from December through February at all the roosts on the Lower Wisconsin River and in the surrounding Sauk Prairie area for many years. I also live on the Lower Wisconsin River and see eagles almost every day during the winter. The volunteers count the bald eagles that roost at the 15 established roost sites from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Sunday afternoons. Some of the statistics gathered include; male, female, or juvenile eagles, what direction the flying eagles come from, where the eagles roost, temperature, wind velocity, and snow cover.

This coming year will be the 29th year that Sauk Prairie has had a Bald Eagle Watching Day. Every year, the number of visitors seems to be increasing. The number of eagles is also growing. There are many activities for the entire family from seminars, Raptor Shows, bus tours around the Sauk Prairie area to view eagles, close-up views of live eagles and raptors, and much more for the old and young.

The FBEC, also, maintains an Overlook on Water Street in Prairie du Sac, which overlooks the Wisconsin River and Eagle Island. There is a permanent spotting scope to help people see the bald eagles up close. There are FBEC volunteers at the Overlook on weekends to answer questions from visitors about the magnificent bald eagle, take bus tours around the area roosting spots, and talk to experts who can answer your questions.