ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Bald eagles are migrating back to Minnesota and may soon be spotted in large groups, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Spring migration, which usually coincides with ice-out, is currently one or two weeks ahead of schedule.
DNR regional Nongame Wildlife specialist Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer said this is due to an especially warm February, which melted the ice along the rivers.
Only two states, Florida and Alaska, have greater nesting populations of bald eagles than Minnesota. In 2005, researchers estimated there are more than 1,300 active nests in Minnesota.
Fall migration typically occurs as lakes and rivers freeze over, since most eagles prefer a diet of fish. Bald eagle wintering grounds ideally contain open water, ample food, limited human disturbance and protected roosting sites.
As their population increases, however, some eagles have become tolerant of some disturbance, particularly traffic, choosing to nest near busy highways or in very urban habitats. To supplement their diets in winter, eagles also prey on mammals and other birds, and will often be seen on roadsides eating carrion.
According to the DNR, not all bald eagles migrate southward in the fall. In many areas in Minnesota, it's common for some eagle pairs to stay the winter, especially during milder winters and wherever there is open water.
Bird watchers can keep an eye out along the Minnesota River Corridor, the north shore of Lake Superior and around Lake Pepin in southeastern Minnesota, as these tend to draw larger migrations.
In flight, bald eagles are sometimes confused with turkey vultures. Bald eagles can be distinguished by their tendency to soar on flat, board-like wings, while turkey vultures fly with their wings in a V-shape.
The DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program is now streaming live video of a nesting pair of bald eagles on its website.
To learn more about eagles and how to donate to the Nongame Wildlife Program, click here.