National Eagle Center – Wabasha, MN

By Rick Pedersen –  As a kid in the 70’s it was common for neighborhood kids on bikes to follow the Township truck that was used to spray mosquitoes. We did not know at the time it was DDT that was being sprayed, let alone a harmful chemical that was driving The Eagles to near extent extinction. We saw no Eagles during that time frame because of the poison ingested through the food chain. This was causing the bird eggs to be too thin for the birds to sit on. We now know that DDT was a calcium blocker and therefore affecting the eggshells. Once the chemical had been banned, it was a long road back from near elimination of these majestic birds.

I still remember the first bald eagle I ever saw as a kid in the early 80s. My brother and I were rowing along the shoreline up the River near my dad’s house. It was kind of a game to see how close we could sneak up upon wild animals like ducks for muskrats. The surprise was on us when a huge bald eagle took off from a large tree right above our heads, and it was an amazing site to see.

Fast forward about 40 years later, and it is not uncommon for me to see 200 to 300 Eagles during the spring as ice melt off the river here in West Central Wisconsin. Honestly it is so common for me to see them almost year-round that I sometimes take sightings for granite. Eagles still hold fascination for me, and without hesitation, I seized the chance for my wife and I to travel to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha Minnesota. It is a nonprofit organization run with many volunteers that are dedicated to the preservation and education of Eagles, and happens to be in prime area for viewing the birds year-round. The center is a beautiful family friendly place for people of all ages to learn about and interact with actual live birds. The feathered residents have been deemed unsuitable for them to return to the wild due to injuries sustained, and as such, make great learning tools for all to see. People from all walks of life and country migrate to the center to interact with birds.

During our tour, it was fun to see the reactions on the faces of both children and adults as they stared at  the birds up close for the very first time. Everything from an accurately sized eagles nest to a machine that allows you to compare your grip strength with an eagles can be seen at the center. There are movies to be watched, live demonstration talks, and actual tethered birds in a room in which a person can get up- close and personal with. It’s all very cool to see as the center is set up to showcase all their educational tools, all while hosting many visitors, seven days a week. The building rises two stories, while the rear of the structure is all glass windows overlooking the beautiful Mississippi River. All this magnificence takes place in a small-town setting that makes a person feel right at home. Some would say it’s just like walking down Main Street in your own town. Wabasha is a quaint charm that welcomes its many visitors to all of its downtown shops and restaurants.

Following a full afternoon of learning and interacting with the exhibits, we traveled to Lake City Minnesota for a paddlewheel tour on Lake Pepin for actual bird watching. The Lake is home to vast wildlife, and stretches the length of 22 miles long and about 2 miles across. The boat was filled with both young and old people, with the majority of them having never seen Eagles in the wild or even up close.

During our two hour tour, we were further educated about the local wildlife and habitat as we made a large, slow loop from one side of the lake to the other, and finally back to the dock. Weather conditions and time of year will dictate what a person might see on such a cruise, and how many Eagles might be present to view on any given day.

During our afternoon. I saw kingfishers, a large group of almost 100 Pelicans, and a handful of local ducks and a dozen vultures circling above for their latest meal. My enjoyment and passion for the river and its wildlife was nurtured by my early fishing trips with my grandpa and dad. They both had great respect for the local resources, and taught me at an early age the proper ethics and courtesy while on the water. It seems like there was always a new story or lesson to be learned every time I got out in the boat with them. That very passion inspires me to share my knowledge and experience of the outdoors with others. Therefore, it gave me great pleasure to watch both young and old people seeing and learning things for the first time.

For those who love eagles, and those who have never seen an eagle, you owe it to yourselves and your family to make a trip to the center. You will definitely learn some things you may not have known before.

A great compliment to visiting this place of learning is the 2-hour boat ride about 20 minutes upriver in Lake City. Our trip was the perfect typical fall afternoon with sunshine, mild temperatures, and a slight breeze. Drinks and snacks are available on the boat, and I would also recommend good binoculars, a camera, and a light jacket. Also, the company of good friends or family members makes for an even more enjoyable afternoon. Following your boat ride, one may have worked up and appetite! So if you’re headed downriver back to Wabasha, there are many nice shops and restaurants to explore. On this day, we opted for burgers at the Silver Star Saloon and Grill which offered casual dining in a friendly atmosphere. The staff was pleasant, the food came out quickly, and the burgers hit the spot, all while being washed down with a glass of cold beer. If you happen to stop in, please tell Adam, the owner, that Rick from the Driftless Area Magazine sends his regards.

This small town has a quaint charm that welcomes its visitors while beckoning you to return in the future. Special thanks to Ed and his staff at The Eagle Center for an enjoyable afternoon. We very much appreciate your time and attention.

National Eagle Center
50 Pembroke Ave. S.
Wabasha, MN 55981