The only reason I’ll get out of bed before 6 am in freezing temperatures is to see birds, and on this day it was to see Bald Eagles at the Shepaug Dam.
I saw the wintering Bald Eagles at the Shepaug Hydroelectric Facility in Southbury, CT in late December and it was a fantastic experience, but I knew in early February there’d be even more eagles this time around.
And I was right.
Bald Eagle Air Show
The intoBirds crew, which included Dan, the silent member of the team and myself dressed to withstand the freezing temperature, arrived at the Shepaug Dam viewing area around 10:30am.
We were immediately greeted by a juvenile Bald Eagle serving as our wingman leading us to the parking lot.
Dan and I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough as 5 juvenile Bald Eagles were performing air acrobatics filled with flips, rolls, and fly-bys for the onlookers below.
These “teenagers” were putting on quite a show.
While two adult Bald Eagles and a juvenile perched in a tree across the Housatonic River.
Wintering Bald Eagles
The Shepaug Dam, on the Housatonic River in Southbury, is appealing to wintering birds because the hydroelectric station’s operation prevents water from freezing, making it easy for the birds to feed on fish below the dam.
But this day wasn’t about the eagle’s quest for fish.
Today the juveniles were putting on an air show above us chasing each other with quick dips and dives.
And when a red-tailed hawk decided to approach a Bald Eagle mid-air, everyone held their breath and watched in amazement.
Birds of Prey
The Bald Eagles are the headliners of this event, but our good friends Christine’s Critters, Inc., a licensed falconer, wildlife rehabilitator for birds of prey and educator, plays an admirable co-starring role at the event.
Christine Peyreigne, of Christine’s Critters brings several of her feathered friends, including her falconry bird, a red-tailed hawk named Theron, to introduce to the crowd.
Her birds include a Barred Owl, Saw-whet Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Cooper’s Hawk, red-tailed hawk, Northern Goshawk, and a Peregrine Falcon.
And every program she brings different critters to see.
You can meet her birds of prey up close. I mean, closer than you’ll ever get to a bird of prey in the wild.
Each bird has a story to tell about an injury causing them to be non-releasable back into the wild and living under Christine’s thoughtful care.
An injured wing from crashing into a tractor-trailer.
Loss of an eye from colliding with a car.
A broken wing from a cat attack.
But they all live on and through them Christine uses them to teach us about what we can do to coexist with nature to share the planet in harmony with our featured friends.
Meet Christine’s Critters
Top Row Left to Right: Mr. Higgins (Northern Saw-whet Owl), Theron (Red-tailed Hawk) and Equinox (Peregrine Falcon)
Bottom Row Left to Right: Ash (Eastern Screeh Owl, Adult Gray Morph), Willow (Barred Owl) and Aurora (Bald Eagle)
Meet the Eagle
If seeing a Bald Eagle is on your bucket list, then Christine has the answer.
Aurora, Christine’s permanent bird ambassador bald eagle, steps up front and center during the program.
It’s breathtaking to see a Bald Eagle up close, and Aurora soaks up the spotlight and enjoys her starring role.
If she calls out, the eagles above swoop down to investigate why one of their own is down below.
So even if you don’t see Bald Eagles flying back and forth at the dam, you can take a photo with Aurora.
Proving to everyone you saw an eagle up close.
Birds of Prey as Pets
A young man asked an interesting question during Christine’s Critters’ presentation.
“Can I have a Bald Eagle as a pet?”
The answer serves as a great segue to understanding just what goes into being a wildlife rehabilitator.
The answer, of course, is no.
You cannot own a Bald Eagle as a pet. Or a bird of prey. Or any other wild bird.
The Migratory Bird Treat Act of 1918 makes it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds listed as migratory birds.
The statute does not discriminate between live or dead birds and also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs, and nests.
You can receive training and certification as a wildlife rehabilitator, receive training and certification as a raptor rehabilitator, and then keep a wounded or damaged eagle to rehabilitate the bird.
But first, you need a USFW (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services) rehabilitation permit to rehabilitate birds of prey.
This license only allows you to rehabilitate birds. You cannot keep the non-releasable birds.
You have 180 days to release the bird, find it a home, or as a last resort, humanely euthanize it.
Then you need a USFW special use permit allowing you to keep non-releasable birds of prey.
And each individual bird must be applied for and approved before it can be used in education programs.
Or you can apply for a general class falconry license to participate in the sport of falconry to hunt small game with trained raptors such as falcons, hawks, or owls.
Christine of Christine’s Critters is both a USFW certified wildlife rehabilitator with all the permits detailed above and she’s a general class falconer.
But even with her certifications and licenses, Christine doesn’t own the injured, non-releasable birds she cares for that become part of her educational programs.
The USFW owns all wildlife.
Christine is just a caretaker for these birds. And all costs for their care and feeding are at her expense.
That’s why she and other wildlife rehabilitators rely on educational program fees and donations to continue caring for these birds.
If you’d like to help Christine’s Critters, consider donating supplies from their Amazon Wishlist or when shopping on Amazon, choose them as your charity of choice in the Amazon Smile program.
Delicate Works of Art
This day was also special because one of our favorite wildlife artists was in attendance.
Pat Morris is a gifted wildlife artist that not only uses birds as her inspiration, but she transforms feathers into delicate works of art.
She uses found natural objects, primarily turkey feathers, but also birch tree bark, mushrooms, and slate as her canvas.
And the results are outstanding.
Read our story about Pat’s bird feather art here.
The day was jam-packed with eagle sightings.
Eagles perched in the trees across the river and flying above us in groups as many as six at a time.
The Bald Eagle air show was spectacular, and after a few hours, we tallied 26 eagles.
We highly recommend visiting the Shepaug Dam to observe these majestic birds in their winter habitat.
Be sure to dress for warmth.
Hats and gloves are a must. Hand warmers are recommended.
And don’t forget to bring binoculars, viewing scopes, and a camera.
Getting to Shepaug Dam
Admission is free, but reservations are required and are enforced at the gate.
Click here to make a reservation or call them at 800.368.8954.
Reservations can be made Tuesday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., through early March.
If the eagle viewing facility is closed due to inclement weather, reservations can be rebooked to a later date.
Upcoming dates include birds of prey shows featuring the CT Audubon Society and two of Connecticut’s exceptional raptor rehabilitation and education non-profits: Christine’s Critters and Horizon Wings.
The Shepaug Dam Bald Eagles are located at 2225 River Road in Southbury, Connecticut 06488. Click here to get directions.
If you get lost, just follow the eagles.