December: The Best Time to See Bald Eagles near Leech Lake
Nestled in north-central Minnesota’s Chippewa National Forest, the Leech Lake area is home to the largest concentration of bald eagles anywhere in the lower 48 states. If you have ever wanted to see a bald eagle in its natural habitat, travel to Leech Lake this winter!
With over 1,300 lakes and 923 miles of rivers and streams, the Chippewa forest is a prolific breeding ground for the magnificent bald eagle. Having banded and surveyed eagles since 1962, Chippewa National Forest averages about 150 eaglets from 150 pairs of eagles each year. Visit Leech Lake yourself to see bald eagles nesting, feeding, or soaring above you on your next winter vacation.
Why is Winter the Best Time to See Bald Eagles?
While the bald eagle has a varied diet of birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and mammals, fish is the main component of their diet, so it is important that they are near large bodies of water. In the winter, you’ll find them in large numbers around our lakes and rivers. This is because the movement of the rivers and turbulent water over dams keeps water from freezing. These open patches of water provide significant access to a preferred food source.
How Can I Spot Bald Eagles?: There are a few ways!
- Take to the Water- One of the best ways to spot the bald eagle is to follow the food source. It’s contrasting white head and dark body make it easy to spot, and when it flies, the wings will appear flat. With a wingspan of over 80 inches, you’ll watch the bald eagle soar over the water, keeping an eye out for its next meal. The best views in the area are usually right out on our own Leech Lake.
- Look for Eagle Nests
- The bald eagle nest grows each year, as they typically mate for life and return and enlarge their same nest.
- Built by both the female and male of the pair, the nest is large, usually two to four feet tall, and an average of five feet in diameter. Nests can take on different shapes, depending on the support that the tree offers. However, you’ll find these massive nests high up, near the trunks of tall, sturdy trees. This location gives the eagles better visibility and flight access above the forest. Once you spot a nest, you have a better chance of identifying the bald eagle’s motionless, white-feathered head. You may even see them bring lunch home!
- Learn to Spot Juvenile Eagles
- Immature or juvenile bald eagles are equally impressive in size, but they will not have a white head and tail. You will know it is an immature bald eagle by its brown and white mottled feathers and dark head and tail.
- The juvenile bird will spend the first four or five years of its life exploring the vastness of the United States, which is around the time it develops the characteristic white head and tail of the bald eagle.
What Else Can I do at Leech Lake?
While staying at Leech Lake, you will realize there is so much to do and enjoy here.
- Birding at Leech Lake – Bring your binoculars for more than just the bald eagles! Birding in Chippewa National Forest gives you the opportunity to see an array of approximately 239 species in our area.
- Fishing – There’s a reason that Leech Lake is known as one of Minnesota’s top destinations for fishing. You’ll find fishing resorts and lodges all along our nationally recognized game fish lake. Try your hand ice fishing this winter or go on a professionally guided fishing experience!
- Winter Sports – From cross-country and downhill skiing to snowshoeing and even sledding, you’ll be delighted with our winter recreation opportunities. We have a vast number of trails and a historic hill waiting for you!
At Leech Lake, you’ll find numerous recreational activities, attractions, and events to keep you busy between all of your bald eagle sightings. Reach out to us for more information about lodging or planning your next vacation!