Get ready bird watchers: the eagles are back. In what has become an annual migration, graceful bald eagles fly down from more frozen northern climes each winter to Southbury, Connecticut. The birds have learned that the running waters of the Shepaug Dam on the Housatonic River in Southbur prevents ice from forming, ensuring a ready supply of fish, the eagle’s favorite dish. When the fish come through the dam turbine, they’re a bit stunned and tend to lie on top of the water, making for a tasty buffet.
Eagles have been wintering in this region for decades, and bird lovers flock to watch them in action through telescopes provided at the Shepaug Eagle Observation Area in Southbury.
Those who want close-ups of eagles and 20 other species of birds of prey have another option in Litchfield County – majestic raptors are on view any time of year at the Sharon Audubon Center, where aviaries house some 16 species of birds of prey that are not able to survive in the wild on their own.
Over 136,000 people have visited the free Southbury observation area, which has been operated by FirstLight Power Resources since 1986. Telescopes provide close-up views of the eagles, and volunteers from Connecticut Audubon are on hand to help spot the birds and answer questions. The number of birds in residence varies from day to day; last winter, viewers saw an average of 7.2 eagles per day during the observation period. Throughout 32 viewing days, the highest eagle count was 12, and there was only one disappointing day when no birds were in view.
Those who cannot make it to see winter eagles in the wild can find them and other birds of prey at yearround at the Sharon Audubon Center. The center has a busy wildlife rehabilitation center for injured birds, and those not able to survive in the wild are housed in large, predator-proof aviaries filled with natural vegetation and various perching options. Residents include falcons, kestrels, and many types of owls as well as eagles. Some of them become ambassadors for their species and the natural world, accompanying Audubon staff to education programs at schools and community events.
The Center’s 684 acres also offer 11 miles of trails and boardwalks throughout pond, swamp, marsh, and woodland areas along with a natural history museum with an exhibit room, live animals and displays, and a children’s adventure room.
The Shepaug Dam Bald Eagle Observation Area, located on River Road in Southbury, is open from the last weekend of December through mid-March on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9am to 1 pm. Reservations are required so that the area does not become overcrowded. Reservations can be made by calling (800)368-8954 from December 4 through March 13, Tuesday through Friday, between the hours of 9am and 3pm. For more information, wisit shepaugeagles.info.
Sharon Audubon Center is located at 325 Cornwall Bridge Road in Sharon. Grounds are open daily but indoor facilities are closed on Monday. For information, call (860)364-0520 or visit sharon.audubon.org.