One of the things I love best about living in Sauk Prairie is our view of eagles, sometimes sitting by the dozens on the small spit of land called Eagle Island, or skimming just above the surface of the the river as they fish. I remember one cold winter morning about ten years ago when I was walking along Water Street in Prairie du Sac, just past the Highway 60 bridge. I saw at least 12 to 15 eagles fishing, calling to each other. This is water just down from the dam in Prairie. The water here is open all winter. The eagles come here because of the open water and because there are multiple areas to roost. The snow we’ve had this winter, along with below freezing temperatures, have made this a banner year for eagle watching.
The Ferry Bluff Eagle Council (FBEC) is a local grass roots organization that has been protecting wintering eagle breeding habitat through education and advocacy for the past 26 years. Each year since 1990, the FBEC and other co-sponsors, hold Bald Eagle Watching Days the third weekend in January. This event draws thousands to Sauk Prairie for a chance to view eagles where they live.
Marge Gibson, with the Raptor Education Group, Inc. in Antigo Wisconsin, is a wildlife rehabilitator. Her group provides treatment, food and housing for injured and sick birds and animals. They bring animals back to health and work to teach injured raptors to fly again in order to release them back to the wild. Marge was back in Prairie du Sac this year to release four birds during this year’s celebration.
I’ve been to a number of releases over the years. It is an experience that is difficult to describe. It is deeply spiritual as witnessed by the presence of a native American who gives a ceremonial blessing for each bird.
Before the birds are actually released, Marge holds them close as she walks along the crowd gathered on the river near the dam. She gently tells the story of each bird, and answers questions, often from children , about how they came to her center and how they were taken care of.
She then climbs up to a makeshift stage. After removing the tie connecting her to the bird, she opens her arms, all the while talking quietly to the bird coaxing it to fly.
And when it’s ready, the bird takes off. Low at first, testing its wings. Then it soars, gaining speed as it heads across the water. I never tire of that sight.