Looking through binoculars and spotting scopes, a sizeable crowd gathered Saturday in Stella to see bald eagles.

Looking through binoculars and spotting scopes, a sizeable crowd gathered Saturday in Stella to see bald eagles.

The cold weather didn’t stop Connie Abbott of Columbus, Kan., from coming down to see the eagles.

“I have never seen a bald eagle,” Abbott said. “It is pretty exciting. I am very interested. My husband heard about them having this (Saturday) and we were both off so we came down here to see them. I got to see a bald eagle through my lens, it is beautiful. I am hoping to get some good photos with my digital camera.”

Abbott used a Nikon D-70 digital camera with an extended lens to capture our nation’s bird.

“The eagle looked like a brown body with a white head, just sitting there,” said Abbott, pointing to a tree line. “I plan on downloading the photos onto my computer when I get home.”

As this was her the first time at the eagle-watching event, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation and Stella Methodist Church, Abbott plans on coming back.

This was the first time that an eagle watch has been held in Stella. However, spectators have flocked to the area to see the birds.

“For the past five years or so, we have been directing people down here to drive these roads and see these eagles,” said Jeff Cantrell, naturalist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “And we will continue to do that through mid-March.”

Cantrell said Missouri is one of two states that see these winter eagles. Washington is the other state.

“Usually we are number one, but every once in a while, we go back and forth with the state of Washington for wintering eagles,” Cantrell said. “We have more and more eagles breeding here every year. The numbers are very much increasing.”

But the question remains, why here?

“There are several reasons. One is the location,” said Cantrell. “It is perfect in between three good river systems right here. There is no doubt that the poultry industry, there are some dead chickens (that) are thrown out, so they key on that. But the water, since it is a river, it is not freezing over, it is for them to fish.”

Cantrell said there were 128 eagles in the field, near the village’s park on Indian Creek, on Friday night. But when they arrived shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday, they only had eight eagles in the field.

But the crowd at the first event was spectacular.

“We are very pleased, there have been people out here since 7 o’clock this morning,” said Cantrell. “We said we would set up the tables at 2 p.m. We had a big crowd waiting on us when we got here.”

The eagle event had a dual purpose, one for eagle watchers and the other was for school children.

Phyllis Chancellor, who teaches English as a second language at Neosho Middle School, had some of her students out to view our nation’s bird.

“We have the nature club that meets once a week at the middle school,” Chancellor said. “We have done bird watching. In the last couple of weeks, we have been identifying mammals, and of course we talk about conservation. We are close to the golf course and we walked to one of the ponds there to ID some birds that are in the area.”

Chancellor has seen bald eagles before, particularly in other states.

One of the students who came out with Chancellor was Linda Lopez, a fifth grader at the school.

“I am excited about coming out here today,” said Lopez. “I have seen an eagle. I have never seen this many eagles before. They eat fish and snakes.”

About eagles

The bald eagle, Haliaestus leucocephalus, is a bird of prey that is native to North America. This eagle is not really bald -- white feathers cover its head. The derivation of the name “bald” is from an obsolete English word meaning white. The bald eagle has been the national symbol of the USA since 1782.

- Habitat: The bald eagle lives near rivers and large lakes, as it catches most of its food in the water.

- Food: Fish compose 60 to 90 percent of the bald eagle diet and dead or injured wildlife are often eaten in the winter. Eagles usually locate prey by soaring or watching from a high perch.

- Eyesight: Eagle vision is five to six times sharper than a human’s.

- Beak: The eagle’s hooked beak is used for tearing flesh.

- Speed: Eagles fly 20 to 40 mph in normal flight, but can reach speeds of more than 100 mph while diving.

- Nest and eggs: Bald eagles build an enormous nest from twigs and leaves. The nest can be up to eight feet across and may weigh a ton. Nests are located high from ground, either in larger trees or on cliffs. Eagles may use the same enormous nest over and over again for years.

This past fall, the bald eagles were taken off of the endangered species list.

Neosho Daily News