7 Places to Spot Bald Eagles in Green Country
The warm temps and lush greenery of summer may be gone, but there are still a wealth of unique opportunities to enjoy the natural splendor of Green Country. And humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy the mostly mild winter climate here in our corner of Oklahoma! A large number of American bald eagles winter here, and can be found populating the shores of our many beautiful lakes from late fall until early spring, with some sticking around even longer. Birders and nature lovers from the surrounding region visit to seek out these iconic birds, aiming to capture some great photographs like those below, or just for the pleasure of watching them soar regally overhead. So, if you’re in search of some winter outdoor recreation, here’s a list of the best places to spot these majestic annual visitors.
Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge
Situated on the upper banks of the Robert S Kerr Reservoir near Vian, Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge is a favorite with nature lovers of all stripes. In addition to serving as a home for a huge assortment of wildlife and game species, visitors during the winter often see bald eagles roosting in the cottonwoods and fishing for the catfish, crappie, and bass abundant in these waters. The refuge also hosts colorful annual visitors like the yellow-crowned night heron and white-faced ibis, making it a popular year-round stop for birdwatchers. Free public eagle watching tours are often offered during January, February, and March, usually in conjunction with similar tours at nearby Tenkiller State Park.
With sandy beaches and sandstone bluffs, Keystone Lake is an ideal place to capture some dramatic photos of the overwintering eagle population. The lake’s 54,000 surface acres and 330 miles of shoreline offer numerous opportunities, so pack your camera and reserve one of the beautiful cabins at Keystone State Park to make sure you’ve got enough time to snap the perfect pic!
One of the most popular and well-known eagle spotting locales can be found around the shores of Grand Lake. Visitors will find multiple state parks, as well as a vast array of lodging, dining, and sightseeing opportunities that can be enjoyed throughout the year. Cruise around in the boat to catch sight of the lake’s bald eagles fishing along the shoreline, or just hit the trails at one of the six public areas of Grand Lake State Park and try to spot some nesting sites. Eagles are present in especially high numbers below the lake’s dam, particularly when it releases water, and some populations are said to remain in the area all year long.
Bald eagles can often be found wherever fishing opportunities present themselves, so in addition to the areas around our lakes many reported sightings in Green Country occur along the Illinois River. As the river winds its way through the forested Ozark Hills, its trout-bearing waters frequently attract migratory birds of prey. Known as the Illinois River Scenic Drive, the curving course of Highway 10 between Tahlequah and the town of Kansas, OK makes a unique and beautiful backdrop for excursions to spot local wildlife such as foxes, bobcats, and the variety of other native species that call the area home, including the American bald eagles which nest there year-round. Continuing south out of Tahlequah, Highway 82 runs through the pristine Cookson Hills, leading travelers to the gorgeous vistas of Tenkiller Lake.
Known as Oklahoma’s “Heaven in the Hills,” Tenkiller Lake is renowned for its clear blue waters and 130 miles of gorgeous wooded shoreline. Each winter, the Driftwood Nature Center in Tenkiller State Park hosts birdwatching events for the southern bald eagles known to roost in the surrounding trees, as well as the variety of migratory loons which spend the season there. These tours are free to attend and typically take place on several weekends from January through March. They are often held on the same days as the eagle tours at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, which is just 30 minutes down the road. Attending both is a wonderful way for nature lovers to spend a little time in the great outdoors over the winter months.
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is a hit with visitors all year round, but over the chillier months the preserve’s free-roaming bison and the hundreds of other species that dwell there are joined by some especially regal visitors. The wide-open vistas and lack of winter vegetation means that the eagles here can often be spotted roosting in the trees and soaring over the amber fields of the largest area of protected tallgrass prairie on Earth.
With the inflowing waters of the Arkansas River providing an excellent habitat for catfish, crappie, walleye and bass, it’s no surprise that Kaw Lake is such a popular fishing spot for humans and eagles alike. The lake is home to several trail systems, including the Eagle View Trail at the Osage Cove Campground and the Five Fingers Trail in the Sarge Creek Public Use Area. Several of these allow for horseback riding in addition to foot traffic, so equestrians are invited to saddle up and enjoy a day surrounded by natural beauty. Kaw Lake is known to host one of the largest populations of wintering bald eagles anywhere in the state, so be sure to pack the camera or binoculars and get ready to make some memories!
The bald eagles that spend the winter here are just one example of the many amazing Watchable Wildlife opportunities across Green Country. Discover these and other great ways to enjoy Outdoor Recreation here, or explore our many beautiful Lakes.