If you think you're seeing more bald eagles than usual for March 15, you're right.
The raptors are migrating back to Minnesota and Wisconsin in large numbers and the first day of spring has yet to arrive, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The spring eagle migration usually coincides with ice-out in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. A warm February melted much of the snow cover and ice is breaking up along the rivers, DNR regional Nongame Wildlife specialist Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer said in a news release.
"Because of that, this year's migration appears to be a couple weeks earlier, so folks in southern Minnesota will be seeing eagles soon, even with the last remnants of winter," she said. "We're already seeing small groups of eagles along the Minnesota River."
People living in the Hiawatha Valley are used to seeing bald eagles all year. Thanks to water currents plus the release of hot water from Xcel Energy's Prairie Island nuclear and Red Wing steam plants, the Mississippi River north of the frozen Lake Pepin provides ample food for mature eagles who won't travel any further south than necessary.
However, competition is heating up along with the weather since bald eagles with less experience or waning fishing skills are returning. People can spot dozens of eagles, mature and immature, roosting along the riverbanks.
Only Florida and Alaska have greater nesting populations of bald eagles than Minnesota, the DNR notes. In 2005, researchers estimated there are more than 1,300 active nests in Minnesota.
Bald eagles prefer a diet of fish. To supplement their diets in winter, eagles also prey on mammals and other birds and sometime can be seen on roadsides eating carrion.
Bald eagles that stay in Goodhue and Pierce counties may begin courting and nesting as early as January. Other bald eagles return to their breeding territories as soon as a food source is available. Three weeks ago, one nesting pair was busy adding fresh sticks to an aerie overlooking Hay Creek between Featherstone Road and Bench Street.