[UPDATED: DECEMBER 31, 2012]
Seeing a bald eagle in the wild is an incredible experience. I can still vividly remember my encounter with the majestic bird at Umbagog Lake State Park in New Hampshire back in August 2001. With their striking white heads and tails, and massive wingspans, mature bald eagles are an impressive and unforgettable sight.
Like most birds, bald eagles fly south for the winter and pass right through our neck of the woods by soaring down the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. They begin their migration in December, with the highest concentration of eagles visible during the months of January and February.
Eagle viewing is a popular winter activity for bird and nature lovers in and near New York City. We've got the scoop on how your family can marvel at our national bird, either by joining an organized event or heading out on your own.
Organized Eagle Viewing Events
While the NYC Parks Department offers lots of bird walks during the winter, a handful specifically focus on spotting eagles near the Hudson River. These outings are led by the Urban Park Rangers, and bird lovers of all ages are welcome. With kids, it's best to bring your own binoculars, but if you don't own any you can ask to borrow a pair. These events are free, but reservations are recommended. Please call 212-628-2345.
Saturday, January 5, Sunday, January 27 and Saturday, February 23 at 8am at Inwood Hill Park
For even more spectacular viewing, plan a winter day trip to one of these bald eagle events outside NYC:
Teatown's Hudson River EagleFest
Saturday, February 9 9am-4pm (Snow date: Sunday, February 10)
Croton Point Park in Westchester County
$5 suggested donation per person. All eagle viewing sites are free. Tickets must be purchased for bird shows and bus tours.
Gorgeous Croton Point Park is built on a peninsula jutting out into the Hudson, which makes it a prime eagle viewing spot. This festival offers lots of additional eagle-themed fun, including encounters with migrating eagles, bird walks, storytelling, a tent with children's programs and more. If you're really into these bald birds, you can opt for a bus tour of local eagle viewing sites for an additional $25 per person.
Croton Point Park is easily accessible without a car. Just hop aboard the 9:50am Metro-North "Eagle Train" out of Grand Central Terminal. Naturalists will be on board to provide information along the way. Get off at the Croton-Harmon station and grab the free shuttle bus to the park. (Note: Passengers must purchase a Metro-North train ticket.)
Guided Eagle Excursions with the Eagle Institute
Delaware Highlands Conservancy, 508 River Street, Hawley, PA
This Pennsylvania organization offers a number of eagle events this winter.
Saturday, January 19 at 10am (Snow date Sunday, January 20), $12.50 per person
This trip focuses on the impact of climate change on eagles and their habitat. Reservations required: Call 570-226-3164 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, January 26 at 8am and 12:30pm (Snow date Sunday, January 27), FREE
Find out how Pennsylvania Power and Light's hydroelectric dam at Lake Wallenpaupack helped revive the bald eagle population. You'll also learn about eagle biology and proper eagle-viewing etiquette on this bus trip. Reservations required: Call 570-253-7001 or email email@example.com.
Saturday, February 2 at 10am (Snow date Sunday, February 3), $13 per person
Take a bus trip to look for eagles on the Delaware River with the Northeast PA Audubon Society. You'll also learn about eagle biology and how the eagle has bounced back from the brink of extinction. Reservations required: Call Bob at 570-676-9969 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, February 9 at 9am and 1pm (Snow date Sunday, February 10), $12.50 per person
Join this bus trip across the Delaware to the Mongaup Valley Wildlife Management Area for some eagle scouting. Reservations required: Call 570-226-3164 or email email@example.com.
Eagle Viewing on Your Own
While attending an organized eagle event is the best way to guarantee you'll see one of these massive birds, you can try eagle viewing on your own. If nothing else, you'll have fun trying! In New York City, grab your binoculars and head to the Hudson River waterfront. Inwood Hill Park, Fort Tryon Park and Wave Hill are good spots to hit, and you can try Riverside Park, although it may be a little too close to the heart of the city.
You can also take a day trip to one of the riverfront parks in Westchester County, like Croton Point Park. If you'd prefer to head south, The Eagle Institute has trained volunteers with spotting scopes and binoculars stationed at public viewing areas along the Delaware River on weekends through mid-March. You can even download a map before you go.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provides the following tips for eagle watching:
Visit a designated bald eagle viewing site.
In addition to looking overhead for flying eagles, scan the trees for eagles that are perched in the tree tops.
Check ice floes or river islands for eagles eating or sunning themselves.
Go early in the day (7-9am) or late afternoon (4-5 pm), when eagles tend to be most active.
Be patient: The key to successful viewing is patience.
Dress warmly and in layers, and pack hot beverages.
If you drive, pull your vehicle completely off the road and park only in designated areas.
Don't approach eagles closer than a quarter mile and avoid roosting areas.
Use binoculars or spotting scopes to maintain distance.
Avoid loud noises such as honking horns, slamming doors, yelling and radio playing.
Leave pets at home.