|Hok-Si-La Municipal Park|
Hok-Si-La Park hugs Lake Pepin just north of Lake City, a beautiful community located in the Mississippi Bluffs Region of southeast Minnesota. Situated along the shores of Lake Pepin, a naturally occurring lake on the Mississippi River, and between sandstone bluffs formed in the early Paleozoic ...
National Eagle Center
|Description: The Wabasha area offers a peaceful landscape nestled in the bluffs and the unassuming charm of a rural locale. However, a natural phenomenon disrupts the quietude of this historic river town every winter. It commences in late fall when bald eagles start arriving to spend the coldest season along the mighty Mississippi River. By January, the happening crescendos as thousands of eagles perch, skim above the water and soar overhead.
This gathering wasn’t always so. After World War II, agricultural pesticides were introduced and in the ensuing years became widespread. While the chemicals were beneficial for crop production, the toxic mixtures were creating havoc for wildlife. In the case of raptors, and eagles in particular, the pesticides ended up in their eggshells, which caused them to weaken. The tainted shells could not bear the weight of the parent birds, resulting in extremely low reproductive success. In addition, the adult eagles consumed prey tainted with the insect killer.
In the next few decades, the eagle population plummeted. In all states, except Alaska and Minnesota, the eagles were few in number or nonexistent. The bird became an endangered species. Through the concerted efforts and continual support of researchers, wildlife experts, birders, bird organizations and common citizens, the bald eagle slowly made a recovery. In 2007 the Bald Eagle was officially delisted from the USWFS Endangered Species list.
Today, eagle sightings along the Mississippi are a daily experience, and seeing hundreds in a single drive is commonplace during the migration seasons. For many Wabasha residents, the tremendous comeback of the bald eagle is an incredible environmental success story and a chance to give something back.
This opportunity served as the impetus for a small band of dedicated individuals to form in 1989 a grassroots organization called Eagle Watch. The group’s mission was to welcome to Wabasha people who shared a passion for the bald eagle, and provide them with even more than a “good view.”
Initially, and for more than a decade, a simple building served as an educational center. But, as the number of birds wintering in Wabasha increased, the group had a greater vision.
In May of 2007, the National Eagle Center opened its doors in historic downtown Wabasha. The Center’s mission is to foster environmental stewardship and community sustainability through education about eagles and the Mississippi River environment.
Now thousands of people descend upon the town to see the thousands of eagles and to visit the 15,000 square-foot interpretive center overlooking the Mississippi River. Traveling exhibits and new interactive displays create an ever-changing environment that rewards frequent visits. Two decks, one 25' high and the other at river-level, provide ideal viewing of bald eagles.
There are currently five eagles living at the Center. These eagles have been invited to travel across the country, including a visit to the Senate in Washington, DC and as guests on several nationally syndicated programs filmed in New York. Consistent involvement with veterans, Native Americans and school-age children has developed into full-blown, comprehensive programs.
Wildlife to Watch: This is “the place” in the Lower 48 to saturate yourself with eagle sightings. The raptors are everywhere during peak wintering. Even if you are a novice photographer, bring your camera to capture the beauty of the birds.
Golden eagles are also spotted near this site during the winter, but tend to inhabit the valleys and uplands that lead away from the Mississippi. From a distance this species might be mistaken for an immature bald eagle, so look closely at the head to discern the color of the feathers. Differing habitat and food preferences help distinguish the golden from the bald. In comparison, goldens in this locale often feed on wild turkeys, rabbits and mammals, rather than fish and waterfowl. Both eat carrion. It is believed these goldens winter here, but live in Canada during the breeding season.
Tundra swans, which may be seen in the vicinity of the site, begin their migration at nesting grounds on the Alaskan and Canadian coasts near the Arctic Circle. They cross the Canadian prairie provinces and North Dakota, where they turn east. The birds stop to rest along the Mississippi River before flying through the Great Lakes states and on to the Atlantic Coast. Tundra swans stage along the Mississippi River from mid-October and linger to late November in significant numbers.
Search for other waterfowl that feed in this area. Canada geese, northern shovelers, canvasbacks, gadwalls, northern pintails, mallards, American blackducks, blue-winged and green-winged teal, redheads, American wigeons, buffleheads, lesser scaup, wood ducks and snow geese all use the riverway.
Special Tips: Mississippi River Fun Fact:
Sixty percent of all North American birds (326 species) use the Mississippi River Basin as their migratory flyway! Source: National Park Service.
Land Manager Contact:
National Eagle Center
50 Pembroke Avenue
Wabasha MN 55981-1241
Other Activities: Soar with the Eagles themed weekends are held in November and March.
Ownership: public/private partnership between Eagle Watch, City of Wabasha and the Wabasha Port Authority
Closest Town: Wabasha
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: