The Great Sauk State Trail has been temporarily detoured to reduce human disturbance of eagle foraging.
The detour, along Water Street between Lincoln Avenue and a quarter mile north of the Highway 60 bridge in Prairie du Sac, began Dec. 18. The detour will remain in effect while eagle numbers in the Sauk Prairie area remain high, according to Jeb Barzen of the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council.
“Once the number of wintering eagles declines, typical traffic patterns will resume; likely by late February,” Barzen stated in a news release.
Eagles flock to the Sauk Prairie area because of the nearby bluffs the eagles roost in and perch along the Wisconsin River during the day where the birds can find fish.
“All of these habitats need to be located within an eagle’s commute to the Wisconsin River,” Barzen said. “Large numbers of eagles choose to winter in the Sauk Prairie area because our community offers these amenities in abundance. It is these same resources that often attract us to the Sauk Prairie area as well.”
Barzen said a conservation action people can do to ensure eagles remain visible to residents and visitors is to respect eagles using habitats near the Wisconsin River.
“Human disturbance of wintering eagles can be difficult to detect and appreciate,” Barzen said. “For example, many of us have seen eagles perched on the west side of the river at the dam early in the morning, close to the parking area. As long as people remain in their cars the eagles will continue to perch close by.”
Barzen said pedestrian traffic along the Great Sauk State Trail will likewise reduce the chance eagles will perch on the west side of the river near the Prairie du Sac business community – and even Eagle Island.
“Your respect and use of the detour will greatly reduce eagle disturbance in Prairie du Sac and will enable eagles to perch on the west side of the river more frequently,” Barzen said.
As of Dec. 17, roost counters collectively tallied 145 eagles – exceeding the first count by more than 100 birds, according to the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council. The count marks the fifth highest count ever for the second count of the year, and is close to a three-year winter high.
Gene Unger, president of Ferry Bluff Eagle Council, said he has been seeing a “really good” amount of eagles in the area and that the colder temperatures the area has been experiencing help drive the eagles toward to the dam and Wisconsin River.
“We don’t know what food supply is in Wisconsin River, but by the dam, there were plenty of seagulls around,” Unger said. “They wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t food. And the eagles were all right there with them. They obviously know this is a food rich area.”
Unger said he hasn’t seen a lot of footprints on the trail where it has been detoured, which is a good sign people are respecting the eagles. “People are being very respectful and that is very much appreciated,” Unger said.
That’s also good for the approaching Bald Eagle Watching Days.
“It’s looking good; this cold weather is bringing birds to the river,” Unger said.” I think overall Sauk Prairie gets an A-plus for respecting the eagles and wanting them to come here. I think we are doing some of the right things.”