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Flock to the Rock to watch eagles soar

Melinda Jones
Bald eagle viewing, information and ice carving takes place in Rock Falls on Saturday. Spectators encouraged to meet at the Rock River's Lower Dam at 9 a.m.

Melinda Jones is Director of Tourism and Events for the city of Rock Falls, Illinois. The first thing I (WNIJ's Jason Cregier) wanted to know was how prevalent bald eagles are on the Rock River in Rock Falls

“I would say in the last 10 years, it's become more prevalent, she said. "I remember years ago along the river you’d just see one or two. But now the birds are not extinct in this area. They're just more prevalent around here because of the two dams being open in the winter while the rest of the Rock River is frozen.”

And then that begs the question, well, if bald eagles are prevalent, how active are they on the river?

“They're very active," she replied. "Just two weeks ago, when the rivers were frozen, and the dams were open, we probably had 75 to 100 eagles down there. You can watch them slip right into the water, get their fish, go back up to their nests in the trees and feed their little eagles. But they're very active, and they're fun to watch. And when you're down to the lower dam of the river, you can just look up and they're right above your head.”

One reason the birds are so active is because the ecosystem of the Rock River offers plenty of a certain type of tasty treat, that the bald eagle quite enjoys.

“They call them shad fish, I believe," she said. "And that's what they want, and the Rock River has them. Plus, we have tall trees along the river. That's where they sit out and look over the river. Lawrence Park is right there at the lower dam. And they'll sit over at the tip of Lawrence Park, which is like a peninsula off Avenue G. And you can just see them all sitting in the trees just watching.”

For additional information on birds of prey, or if you have any questions, Jones said some experts will be on hand to help you get the information you'd like.

“The Northern IL Raptor Rehab & Education will talk about the birds of prey," she explained. "They'll bring live birds, and they'll have educational displays of all the types of birds, they will focus on eagles too.”

There will also be a representative from the Kickapoo Tribe in attendance to share the cultural relevance of the bald eagle to native tribes.

“Rudy Vallejo will talk about how it symbolizes the Native American culture," Jones said. "And then also he'll do an eagle dance and the audience can participate in that. It's really interesting to listen to him talk about what the different feathers of the eagle mean, and how the eagles became part of their culture from years ago.”

For all the excitement and fun, I wanted to ask Jones if the great outdoors could throw a wrench into bald eagle viewing.

“It depends on the weather," she said. "If the weather is warmer there is no ice. About a week ago there were probably about 25 Eagles down there that morning. We invite the public to go down to the lower dam and see what you can see. I know last year they had about 10 eagles flying around. When it’s colder you see more of them, which this year it’s not.”

Besides bird festivities, an expert ice carver will be on hand to create some 'cool' art. Yes, bad pun intended. What Jones said about how warmer weather affected ice carving surprised me.

“The ice sculptor’s name is Robert Storm," she said. "When I talked to him the other day, he said it's better when the weather is like this because when it's too cold, the ice will crack when he goes to carve it sometimes. So, this weather's perfect. The ice will melt faster, but it won't affect the ice carving process.”

So, with that said, I was curious what types of ice carvings would be done.

“He's [Storm] going to do one of an eagle, of course," she answered, "another of an owl and one will be a catfish because we have the Rock River here with all the catfish.”

Jones says these online resources can be helpful for any event info or questions you may have.

“Just go to visitrockfalls.com," she said. "Or you can follow us on social media on Facebook and that is under 'Visit Rock Falls' as well.”

Well, there you have it, a Saturday afternoon in Rock Falls really is for the birds.


The event begins Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Lower Dam of the Rock River in Rock Falls.

Jason is WNIJ's host of "Morning Edition".