Hundreds of spectators oohed and ahhed at the activities for the 16thannual Bald Eagle Watch at Starved Rock State Park Saturday and Sunday hosted by the Illinois Audubon Society.
A packed room filled with laughter as several birds of prey flew over spectators’ heads, back and forth across the room. The raptor awareness program presented by World Bird Sanctuary near St. Louis, Mo., took place at Starved Rock Lodge and featured many raptor birds from the United States and two from Africa. Visitors got to see the birds close up through flight or carried around the room.
“Watching the raptors being able to fly is amazing to me,” said Kevin Horvath, who came from Joliet to attend the event. “It’s so up close and intuitive for the kids.”
Tom Clay, executive director of Audubon, said the show is very popular.
“This room holds 275 people, and we will fill it four times today and four times tomorrow,” Clay said Saturday.
The day was filled with other activities including Native American dancing and seminars about falconry and the history about the Illinois Valley. Kids also could enjoy special activities like crafts and face painting. Several conservation and nature exhibitors had booths to educate and inform visitors about different projects and practices.
Visitors also could go to the north side of the river to the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center near Starved Rock Lock and Dam and view eagles in their natural habitat as they perched in trees and swooped across the river.
Guests with cameras and binoculars crowded the viewing area trying to get a glimpse of the birds in action. Katie Zink brought her children from Aurora for the third year in a row to watch the eagles from the dam.
“It’s an amazing thing to see,” said Zink, adding they had seen five eagles so far.
Clay said that the biggest part of the day was awareness and education, because 200 years ago 100,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles were in the United States. In 1963, that number fell to 400 and today there are 10,000 nesting pairs.
“It’s because of programs like this,” said Clay. “People become aware that it is our responsibility.”
Teri Graves, a trainer from Word Bird Sanctuary, said education was the key to saving endangered birds like the bald eagle.
“Once you learn about something you gain appreciation for it,” said Graves.
Graves said she likes using live bird shows because of the impression it leaves on the audience.
“Having a live bird of prey fly right over your head leaves a lasting impression that stays with you, whether you are 4 or 40.”
Clay said the program brings in 4,000 to 5,000 people each year from across the country and even internationally. There is no cost to attend the event, but the Audubon Society does except donations. Visitors included first-time attendees and regulars who return every year.
“It’s been a great event for a lot of years. It keeps kids and adults entertained and it’s just a beautiful time to be out at the park,” said Horvath. He said he started by bringing his children but now brings his grandchildren.
Alicia LeGrand can be reached at (815) 220-6931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.