ROCK ISLAND, Ill. -- Bird watchers say there are more bald eagles frequenting the locks and dams along the Mississippi River in Illinois and Iowa this winter than in previous years.
Samantha Heilig, a natural resources specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is responsible for counting eagles along a section of the river.
Contact information ( * required )
She tells the Rock Island Argus she spotted 260 eagles at a single lock and dam between Rock Island and Davenport, Iowa, on Wednesday. There are typically 50 to 60.
"(That's) been the highest count I've had in years," she said. "To see 260 is exceptional."
Along a stretch of the river, spotters counted 5,000 of the raptors at about a dozen locks and dams. Experts say the birds are hunting for fish and are attracted to the open water in the area -- particularly since other nearby waterways are frozen over.
Dick Sayles, head of the local Audubon Society branch, told the newspaper he managed to count 500 eagles on a trip from his home near Buffalo to the Quad Cities.
Many of the eagles in the area are juveniles.