It was a birdwatcher’s delight kicking off the opening weekend to see wintering American Bald Eagles play at Shepaug Dam in unseasonably balmy temperatures.
It’s early in the season so the eagle lineup wasn’t stacked.
But at the end of the day, the final score for seeing majestic bald eagles tallied 16.
The day’s participants include five adult bald eagles and eleven juveniles.
And the day marked our second year venturing to the Shepaug Hydroelectric Facility in Southbury, Connecticut.
Just our third time seeing wintering eagles there.
Now we consider ourselves season ticket holders.
Shepaug Dam’s Appeal to Wintering Eagles
So what’s so great about visiting a hydroelectric plant in December?
The environment surrounding the Shepaug Hydroelectric Station (the largest hydroelectric station in Connecticut), provides a unique habitat for wildlife.
It’s a critical winter feeding site for bald eagles from December through March.
The Shepaug Dam, on the Housatonic River in Southbury, holds a unique appeal to the wintering eagles.
The hydroelectric station’s operation prevents water from freezing.
When the turbines are operating, the turbulent water causes fish to come to the surface.
This makes it easier for the eagles to feed.
And as people who love birds, it provides us with an incredible opportunity to enjoy seeing these stunning birds in their natural surroundings.
Eagle Watching at Shepaug Dam
Arriving just before 11am at the bald eagle observation grounds, we could see juvenile bald eagles flying overhead.
I think they wanted to make sure we knew we are in the right place.
Moments after arriving, it’s all about the eagles.
While you’re walking from your car to the observation area, and the entire time you’re on the grounds.
The attentive staff at Shepaug Dam are providing updates about where to see the eagles and the day’s running tally.
The volunteers are announcing each eagle sighting, so you never feel left out.
Eagles and Christine’s Critters
When spending time at Shepaug Dam, you have two fabulous choices.
Head to a large blind overlooking the river with spotting scopes set up to provide excellent viewing of bald eagles.
The viewing blind is set against a chain-link fence to establish boundaries where you can set your camera and viewing scope.
It overlooks an island in the middle of the Housatonic River, providing plenty of places for the birds to perch and hunt for fish.
Or catch a birds of prey show.
On this day, the show was featuring our favorite raptor rehabilitation and education non-profit, Christine Peyreigne and her Mom, Betsy, of Christine’s Critters.
Christine’s Critters have a fantastic variety of birds you can enjoy seeing up close that many people don’t often see or overlook, in the wild.
The birds vary from each show.
And can include a Saw-whet Owl, Barred Owl, Screech Owl, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Goshawk, and of course, an American Bald Eagle.
Christine’s bald eagle, Aurora, is breathtaking to see up close, and will be the most amazing eagle you’ll see all day.
Aurora’s dark brown body, striking white tail, head and shoulders, pale yellow eyes, large, hooked bright yellow bill, and powerful yellow legs and talons are breathtaking.
The observation area is open until 1pm so you can enjoy doing both during your visit.
Lucy Walker, Shepaug Eagle View Site Manager, and her amazing staff of volunteers help to assist viewers, providing information, and answering questions.
If you forget to bring binoculars or cameras with a zoom lens, you’re just as much a part of the viewing.
No viewers are left behind, and the staff helps you spot all the eagles being sighted.
The viewing blind is outfitted with a large-scale map of the viewing area, so volunteers can point out where an eagle is to help you find it.
And don’t worry if they talk in code, directing you to different locations, such as the “Y Tree.”
It’s part of their training so they can quickly communicate sightings and give locations specific names.
They’re quick to direct you to perched eagles, often camouflaged behind a branch or wire overlooking the picturesque Housatonic River.
Wintering Bald Eagles on the Housatonic River
The largest concentration of wintering eagles in Connecticut can be seen perching, fishing or flying at this site on the Housatonic River.
It’s a great place to see wintering eagles because the birds sit in the same spot for a reasonable period allowing viewers the opportunity to see them before the birds takes flight.
We spotted five eagles perching in one tree and enjoyed watching them taking flight one-by-one, flying the span of the river over to the other side of the dam.
While in flight, wintering juveniles perform air acrobatics to the delight of onlookers.
On this day, the main event was a Canada goose falling victim to a bald eagle on the other side of the dam.
Almost instantly, we were witnessing eleven bald eagles swooping in to enjoy part of the meal.
On any day at Shepaug Dam, you can expect to see as many as 10 or more bald eagles.
During our two-hour visit, we saw five adult Bald Eagles and eleven juveniles.
And you’ll enjoy seeing a variety of other birds including Red-tail Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Great Blue Herons, and other various waterfowl.
Spotting Bald Eagles
Adult Bald Eagles
Adult bald eagles are the easiest to spot with their dark brown bodies contrasting against their bright yellow bill, white head, and tail.
Their white heads stand out against the brown, tree-lined winter backdrop.
Listen for their high, weak-sounding whinny calls.
During the birds of prey show, I was at the viewing blind the listening for Christine’s bald eagle, Aurora, to let out a few cries.
Then watching to see the response from the eagles across the river.
I was ready, and my camera was focusing on an adult bald eagle to capture their reaction as they turned their white head in my direction.
Juvenile Bald Eagles
Juvenile bald eagles have a brown body with brown and white mottled wings.
Their tails are also mottled with a dark band at the tip, making juveniles trickier to spot against the brownish backdrops.
But their long, broad wings help them stand out from the brown background.
You’ll enjoy the eagles aerial maneuvering to catch fish and delight in seeing them perched high above in the trees.
Bald Eagle Hot Spot
The Shepaug Dam is a fantastic place to observe wintering bald eagles in their natural state, and in their chosen territory.
Some of the eagles at the Shepaug Dam live in Connecticut year long.
But others come from Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces.
Bald eagles visit Shepaug Dam in response to weather patterns and their consequences.
Severe cold up north freezes up bodies of water locking eagles out of fishing areas.
Since fish is an eagle’s preferred food, they move south, looking for food.
If Connecticut has a severe cold spell, causing ice lockup, the northern eagles continue south to Virginia or Maryland to find open water.
Safeguarding Wintering Eagles
The Shepaug Dam is a critical winter feeding site for bald eagles.
The dam serves as a plentiful food source during winter.
And a stressful time for eagles when they need to preserve their energy.
If eagles are frequently disturbed from feeding and forced to travel to a different area for food, a threatening situation can occur.
The observation area at Shepaug Dam is located at a safe distance from the eagle’s favorite perch sites eliminating the potential for disturbances.
And the eagle’s reaction to visitor presence is continually monitored to provide a safe haven for wintering eagles.
Connecticut averages 80 bald eagles, but the numbers are increasing.
In August 2007, bald eagles were removed from protection as a Federal Endangered Species.
However, they’re still protected under other Federal Acts.
Connecticut protects bald eagles as threatened on the state level, due to lack of nesting habitat.
Planning Your Visit to Shepaug Dam
Seeing the eagles at Shepaug Dam is entirely an outdoor event.
Even though there’s a blind for viewing the eagles, it’s like being outside.
Dress for warmth.
Hats and gloves are a must, and hand warmers are recommended.
Bring binoculars and viewing scopes.
Scopes are provided in the viewing blind, but seeing eagles is a collaborative effort, and everyone’s input counts.
If you plan on taking photos, bring a camera with a zoom lens.
Don’t rely on your iPhone or point and shoot camera, you’ll wish you brought something a bit more powerful.
Finally, bring a positive attitude and sense of humor and take delight in seeing these noble, majestic eagles.
No matter what the weather brings the day of your visit, reveal in seeing these amazing birds in their winter habitat.
Book Your Reservation
During the viewing season, admission is free, but reservations are required and are enforced at the gate.
Shepaug Dam Eagles have a packed season schedule through early March, and you can make your reservations here or call them at 800.368.8954.
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.
We’re fond of all three organizations, and the birds of prey shows are highly recommended.
The Shepaug Dam Bald Eagles are located at 2150 River Road in Southbury, Connecticut 06488.
Google the location, and you’ll see they’re 28 minutes north of Danbury, Connecticut off Route 84.
Seeing wintering bald eagles at Shepaug Dam is a great family event and wonderful way to stay connected to nature during the winter.
Now get out and see wintering eagles!