While winter tends to be a quiet time for tourists at Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky and Tennessee, tourists of a different feather flock to the lakes during our coldest months of the year.
The U.S. Forest Service-managed area attracts bald eagles, as well as many vacationers to local shores because of great fishing. When northern waters freeze, many bald eagles fly south to find open waters where they can catch fish.
Bald eagles also need quiet, undisturbed areas where they can rest. With two huge unfrozen lakes and more than 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline, Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area serves as a bald eagle’s winter paradise. In fact, it has become such a popular destination for eagles that an annual bald eagle bird population survey conducted each January estimates that 100 spend their winter on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes.
And visitors are beginning to take notice.
In January, hundreds of people visited in search of these magnificent birds, which have been the national emblem of the U.S. since 1782. Guided eagle viewing tours offered by the Woodlands Nature Station offer participants spectacular views of bald eagles in the wild.
During an afternoon boat tour, John Rufli, the director of our Friends Group, chronicled their first sighting.
“At first, we saw a black speck in the sky,” he said. “As we moved closer to the bird and it to us, we could make out the details of its broad, straight wings, the dark body and then the white head and tail – all distinct characteristics for the bald eagle. Even though many of us were on our second or fifth eagle tour, you could feel our excitement with each new sighting.”
During that outing, more than 30 birds were spotted. The large number of bald eagles celebrates the success of a wildlife conservation effort over many decades. Today, through the conservation efforts of both professionals and citizen volunteers, this beautiful bird is back from the brink of extinction.
Here, biologists managed a re-introduction program that lasted through most of the 1980s. Young eaglets were brought in and released. Over time, as these “new” eagles matured, many of them returned to establish nesting territories and raise their young. Today, visitors enjoy this magnificent bird at Land Between The Lakes because of their commitment to protect and preserve the wildlife heritage.
If you come to Land Between the Lakes, please remember to view from a distance and leave the eagles undisturbed.
Although seen as a powerful bird, to some people their calls sound weak.
Watch a video that will help you learn more about our Nature Station activities.