Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge serves as a haven for a multitude of birds on their way to other destinations — the ultimate avian truck stop, if you will.
Right now, its most prominent customers happen to be America’s national symbol.
Howard Browers, wildlife biologist at the expansive refuge encompassing the marshlands adjacent to the northeast arm of Great Salt Lake, said counts this week revealed that about 175 bald eagles are currently roosting within its boundaries.
“It’s not quite a record high, but it’s pretty darn close,” Browers said.
The eagles come to Utah from their nesting grounds to the north every winter, drawn by the prospect of prey in the form of fish and various waterfowl. Browers said they start leaving in March and are typically gone by mid-April, when they head back north to breed and nest. Wintering bald eagles in Utah can come from as far as Alaska or as close as Idaho.
“At this time of year, open water attracts waterfowl, which in turn attracts the eagles,” Browers said. “Most of the refuge is still frozen, but we have some spots with open water. The number of eagles we’re seeing could be because of the mild winter we’re having.”
This Saturday happens to be the official Bald Eagle Day, when the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources will stage five different viewing sites in Utah.
In the Top of Utah, viewings are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Compton’s Knoll within Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area, located about 10 miles northwest of Corinne; and at Farmington Bay from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Salt Creek event will feature an appearance from a captive bald eagle that lives at the Ogden Nature Center from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
The Farmington Bay event includes the opportunity to visit the Great Salt Lake Nature Center. Diana Vos, the center’s director, said the center will hold special Bald Eagle Day activities for kids and families. HawkWatch International will also bring some live birds of prey to the center from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., she said.
Other viewings will be held at Fountain Green State Fish Hatchery east of Nephi, Split Mountain/Green River north of Jensen and below the Dinosaur Quarry in Dinosaur National Monument, and Cedar Valley, located northwest of Cedar City.
The Bear River Refuge will also hold its own eagle-viewing event Saturday, and its auto-tour loop is open to the public.
Bob Walters, watchable wildlife coordinator for the DWR, said spotting scopes will be available at each viewing site, and biologists and volunteers will be on hand to help visitors spot the eagles and answer questions.
Late morning and early afternoon is the best time to get a clear view of the eagles, Walters said. The best time to see the most eagles is between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., when they start flying to trees at many of the viewing locations to roost for the night.
Walters started Bald Eagle Day in 1990 as a way to introduce people to Utah’s wildlife. Since then, it has become Utah’s most well-attended wildlife viewing event.