Eagles, which are unique to North America, begin to arrive in Arkansas as early as mid-October and stay all winter long, departing around February and as late as mid-March. Over 1,700 eagles may winter here depending on weather conditions. Wintering eagles favor the Ouachitas and Ozarks due to their favorable habitat. You might not spot one based on sound recognition though, as the infamous ‘cry’ you hear on television and movies is most likely from a red-tailed hawk. Eagles make a wimpy high pitched chirping sound.
Once endangered in all of the lower 48 states, bald eagles, which became the national emblem of the United States in 1782, came dangerously close to extinction. However, due to increased awareness, protective legislation and widespread conservation efforts over the past 50 years, the population is making a remarkable comeback, and eagle watching is becoming a popular pastime for nature lovers across the country.
Lake Ouachita provides prime habitat for wintering bald eagles. Through February, park interpreters at Lake Ouachita State Park give guided lake tours (via a covered barge) to try to spot eagles in the wild. Be sure to dress for the weather and bring your camera and binoculars if you have them since you will be scanning the shorelines of Lake Ouachita. Of note, be sure to call the park before you go to get details on what exact days/times the tours take place on the weekend. According to park interpreter Susan Adkins, the tours “will run now through February on most Saturdays, but not all of them. It’s best to call the park to get tour dates and times. For groups of 12 or more, I can also schedule private Eagle Watch Tours.” Tours depart from the park marina. The cost is $9 for adults, $5 for kids (6-12 years old) and those under 6 years old get in free. You can make reservations and purchase tickets at the visitor center. Lake Ouachita State Park is located at 5451 Mountain Pine Road. For more details call the park at 501-767-9366.