Starved Rock is in Utica, about 75 miles southwest of Chicago. The park is named for a legend that tells of a band of Illiniwek starving to death after fleeing to the top of the flattopped rock cliff and being trapped by rival Potawatomi and Ottawa tribes.
Starved Rock is about 2630 acres in size and is a great place for camping, hiking and boating. During winter the park is home to hundreds of Bald Eagles.
We arrived at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center at about 9am and joined other Bald Eagle watchers on the viewing area. Several Audubon Society members offered use of their scopes to get an up-close look at the Bald Eagles perched on trees on Leopold and Plum Islands.
Besides the many perching eagles, dozens of juvenile and adult birds were flying and hunting over the Illinois River at the Starved Rock Lock & Dam.
Bald Eagles were on the brink of extinction in the lower 48 in the early 1970’s. The banning of DDT and additional federal protection has helped the species recover to a status of Least Concern today.
Our next stop was Starved Rock Lodge, where several vendors and bird organizations had tables explaining their causes. We spoke with the International Crane Foundation representative. They are not too far away in south central Wisconsin so I’m sure we’ll pay them a visit soon.
At noon we attended the Raptor Awareness Program by the World Bird Sanctuary of St. Louis. Two handlers showed us several different birds of prey while telling us about each species.
The first bird was a Harris Hawk. We recently made a Birdorable Harris Hawk so we had read about them. These birds live in the desert. Since perches (often cactus) are sparse in the desert, Harris Hawks will stand on top of one another when there is no other available perch. I would love to see this! The program’s Harris Hawk flew low across the audience several times which was fun to see.
Other birds in the program were Turkey Vulture, Barn Owl, American Kestrel, Great Horned Owl (who gave us some great hoots), Bataleur, and Bald Eagle. The American Kestrel also flew during the demonstration. The Barn Owl should have flown over the audience but got a piece of meat skewered on the beak after the first leg and flew no more.
Check out these powerful Bald Eagle talons.
The last bird of the demonstration was no raptor. One of the sanctuary’s White-necked Ravens came out and accepted donations from the audience.
After the program we looked down at the Illinois River valley from the Lodge. A Red-shouldered Hawk was perched on one of the Lodge’s trees in the viewing area.
Next we went back to the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center to attend the 2pm Live Eagle Program by the Illinois Raptor Education Center. This program was a bit smaller scale and took place in the basement of the Visitor Center. Here we were shown five birds: Turkey Vulture; Red-tailed Hawk; Golden Eagle; Bald Eagle; and Great Horned Owl.
The Bald Eagle was just 4 years old and didn’t have its full white head yet.
We had a great time at the Eagle Watch at Starved Rock and I’m sure we’ll attend more such events in the future.