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Bald eagles making their way towards Missouri

Francis Skalicky, Missouri Department of Conservation
Frequently more than 2,000 eagles are tallied during the state’s annual mid-winter eagle count, which is conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation each January.

Bald eagles get a lot of love from the public, but it seems these birds need a better Hollywood agent – particularly the male eagles.

Each winter, much is written about one of Missouri’s most eye-catching avian winter visitors. It is well-deserved publicity: In addition to their patriotic symbolism, bald eagles have a number of traits that makes seeing one a memorable event. People can learn more about more about eagles on Jan. 23 and again on Feb. 6 through online events that are cooperative efforts of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Dickerson Park Zoo. These virtual events are taking the place of the in-person Eagle Days events that are normally held in January in Springfield and other select sites around the state. Before we get to details about these upcoming events, though, here are a few lesser-known details about eagles seen in movies and on TV.

For starters, the screeching cry you hear most eagles make in movies is not the sound of an eagle – it’s a red-tailed hawk. That’s right – that loud, clarion screech made by most movie eagles that’s meant to alarm, inspire or impress (depending on the context of the scene) is actually one of the primary calls of the red-tailed hawk. Bald eagles do make sounds, but not that one. Why a hawk’s cry has become a signature sound for a bald eagle is something you’re going to have to ask Hollywood about.

If you’re a male bald eagle your chances of being seen in a movie are about as remote as being heard. Another little-known movie fact is that many of the bald eagles seen on the silver screen are females. The reason for this is that females are larger. This characteristic (females being larger than males) is a trait seen in hawks and most other raptor species, as well. So, bringing this back to the Hollywood eagle, if you want to show a magnificent bird; you’re going to choose the gender that’s the largest.

Sorry Mr. Eagle.

Moving from Hollywood trivialities back to the bald eagles we see in Missouri brings us to a bird that’s impressive – regardless of gender. Its large size (wing span of between seven and eight feet) the striking contrast of its white head against its dark body and its fierce expression are some of the reasons this bird has always been a head-turning event for humans.

Some bald eagles can be found in Missouri throughout the year, but in winter, this relatively small resident population is swelled by eagles migrating from the north. Frequently more than 2,000 eagles are tallied during the state’s annual mid-winter eagle count, which is conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation each January. The cold fronts, snowstorms and all the other events that highlight winter weather in the northern areas of the continent are conditions that put eagles in motion in a southerly direction towards warmer locations. Eagles often follow open water and, although it may get cold here, the birds will be able to find more open water in this region than in the still-colder north.

This year, as in past years, migrating eagles from the north have joined Missouri’s resident population of eagles, which means now is a great time to learn about bald eagles – even if it is online. As part of this year’s Eagle Days virtual events, Dickerson Park Zoo will provide participants with an up-close view of a live, rehabilitated eagle and peregrine falcon. Characteristics of these two birds will also be discussed and opportunities for live question-and-answer sessions will follow. Here is the schedule and the registration addresses for each event.

- Jan. 23, noon-1 p.m., register at https://mdc-event-web.selicensing.com/Event/EventDetails/175583

- Jan. 23, 1 p.m.-2 p.m., register at: https://mdc-event-web.s3licensing.com/Event/EventDetails/175585

- Feb. 6, noon-1 p.m., register at: https://mdc-event-web.s3licensing.com/Event/EventDetails/175584

- Feb. 6, 1 p.m.-2 p.m., register at https://mdc-event-web.s3licensing.com/Event/EventDetails/175586

Information about eagles in Missouri can also be found at mdc.mo.gov.

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.