Annual tour highlights bald eagles

by Emily Dalnodar

The public will eat with the birds at the invitation of officials from the University’s Minnesota Raptor Center.
The center is hosting its annual “Brunch with Bald Eagles” on Feb. 21, and this is the last week to reserve one of the limited number of spots available for viewing the birds in their natural habitat. One incentive for attending is the annual raffle for a chance to release one of the center’s rehabilitated eagles back into the wild.
Brunch will be served overlooking the Mississippi River. There, people will be able to view the eagles while eating in Wabasha, Minn., two hours south of the Twin Cities, said Ron Osterbauer, assistant director of the Raptor Center.
“This time of year — late February, early March — is when you’re going to see the largest number of eagles,” said Dr. Patrick Redig, the center’s director.
This is when they are getting ready for the spring migration, he said.
A lecture on bald eagles will be presented after brunch by Mark Martell, a field biologist with the Raptor Center. There will also be an opportunity to interact with some of the live educational eagles that are permanent residents of the center.
“The Raptor Center has five eagles who stay with us who are non-releasable,” said MaryBeth Garrigan, spokeswoman for the center.
These birds are unable to survive in the wild because of permanent disabilities, she said. One or two will be on hand for educational purposes at the Boatworks, she said.
Activities will then move outdoors to an observation deck maintained by staff from Eagle Watch Inc., a 2-year-old, nonprofit group working to educate people about eagles.
Before heading back to St. Paul, participants will travel to Read’s Landing for another look at the eagles, then stop at Coleville Park in Red Wing, Minn. If the weather is nice, more outdoor time is planned at the sites, but the eagles are viewable from the bus regardless, Garrigan said.
“This is an opportunity to see the largest concentration of bald eagles in the United States outside of Alaska,” Osterbauer said. “There are virtually thousands of eagles in different stages of development.”
The price for the trip is between $45 and $55 depending on membership status at the Raptor Center.
Although fund-raising is not the main objective, the trip is part of the many activities the Raptor Center organizes to raise money for its $1.2 million budget. Because it is a nonprofit organization, its survival depends on private donations, research grants, and money generated from merchandise sales and activities like this.
The center also hosts several open houses where visitors can see close-up the many birds that the center rehabilitates and releases, including hawks, owls and bald eagles.