This is one of those feel good stories that you hear about every once in a while. Joan Schnabel has worked with the captive eagles at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota for over a decade. She noticed that the captive birds liked to sit on a perch and look longingly at the Mississippi River that flows in back of the Center. She wondered if the birds would like to go down to the beach and enjoy taking a bath in the river. The answer was yes, and the response of the Center was to establish beach day.
Every Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. during the summer, weather permitting, volunteers bring one or more of the eagles down to the beach at Beach Park, to enjoy the water and take a bath. We decided to drive down to Wabasha last Tuesday to visit the Center and take in beach day. Beach day is a popular event and can attract a large crowd. The Center does suggest that if you are driving any distance that you call ahead to see if the event is scheduled.
Shortly before 11 a.m. volunteers from the center drive the eagle(s) down to the beach in a fan. They usually bring one or two eagles depending upon the size of the crowd they expect. On our visit they brought Angel to the beach. The eagles are housed in a dog crate with a perch mounted inside. Once at the beach the eagle is removed and carried on a volunteers arm to the beach where a perch is placed in the water and the eagle tethered to the perch. The eagle is free to roam a few feet from the perch.
Angle was really excited to get to the beach. She started Screaming as soon as she was on the perch. Some days the eagle takes a bath on our visit Angel just jumped in the water a few times. Generally, if the eagle is going to take a bath they will do it shortly after they are on the perch in the water so if you want to see them take a bath you should plan on arriving early. In a few cases they have actually caught an unsuspecting fish the approached too close.
It was interesting to see wild Bald Eagles flying above the river while we were watching the captive eagle. In one case a wild eagle flew directly overhead apparently wanting to see what was going It then flew up into a tree a short distance down the river. Later in the day while visiting the Eagle Center we saw a Bald Eagle catch a fish right in front of the Center.
After taking a bath or splashing in the water for a while the eagle usually starts to try and fly toward fly toward shore. This is the signal that she is done with the beach portion of the event and wants to go sit under the cottonwood trees. The eagles usually spend an hour or two at the park enjoying the outing. During this time the excellent volunteers answer questions posed by the crowd.
After watching the eagle for over an hour we headed off for lunch at The Olde Triangle Pub and had some great Irish stew. After lunch we went back to the Eagle Center to take in the early afternoon program at 1 p.m. On the way over we noticed the staff was just bringing back Angle from beach day. Joan Schnabel was also giving the presentation and brought Angle along. She was apparently hungry from the day at the beach and rabbit was on the menu.
If you are ever in the area stop in and visit the National Eagle Center. It’s a fascinating place and provides a good value for the money. It is even better if you happen to be in the area on Tuesday because you can also enjoy beach day.
The Center currently has four Bald Eagles and one resident Golden Eagle. All of the birds at the center have been injured and after surgery and rehabilitation they were not well enough to be released to the wild so they were donated to the National Eagle Center for educational purposes.
There are more photos from Beach Day on my website.