A rare sight in Arkansas just a few decades back, bald eagles now are common in colder months around much of the state.
Where you’ll see them, however, is a changeable as the weather.
A current hotspot and one where eagle viewing can be in the comfort of your vehicle, is at Searcy, inside the city. Several eagles have been wintering at the municipal sewer ponds on the northern side of town.
The ponds are along Davis Drive. Directions for those not familiar with Searcy: Get on Race Street, either from U.S. 67-167 on the east side of town or from downtown Searcy. Davis Drive is several blocks east of downtown and a few blocks west of the hospital, White County Medical Center. Watch for Berryhill Park. The street alongside it is Davis. Go north on Davis past the White County Fairgrounds, and you’ll see the sewer ponds on the left. Likely, you’ll see parked vehicles and people standing on the shoulder before you see the ponds.
Tree snags in the ponds are popular perches for the eagles. They move around a good bit, sometimes swooping low over the water to grab a fish then flying up to a perch where they leisurely have a meal.
From a distance, the fish appear to be gizzard shad, and, yes, alga-eating fish can be a part of the sewage treatment process.
Eagle numbers at the Searcy location vary. Some observers have counted 13 this winter. On a recent visit, this writer saw two at first. A third arrived and perched. Then a fourth and fifth came in, cruised low over the water, made fish grabs and took perches on an upright snag. The eagle looked at the lookers along the road, took a bite, looked back at the gawkers with cameras, binoculars and spotting scopes, then took another bite. Neither the humans nor the vehicles traveling busy Davis Drive bothered the eating eagle.
Shoulders are wide enough on Davis at the sewer ponds so viewers can pull safely off the pavement and park.
Eagles hanging around sewer plants are not new in Arkansas. A few years back, the Heber Springs sewer plant was a popular eagle viewing spot. One favorable factor is these sewage treatment places are fenced, so distance is kept between eagles and people.
A few years back, a tiny lake in Conway County west of Center Ridge, Sunnyside Lake, suddenly became a winter home to well over a hundred eagles. There was no explanation. It is a privately owned lake and had been well stocked with fish. But the area also has dozens of chicken growing facilities, and these can be eagle magnets as demonstrated or years in northwest Arkansas.
Yes. Dead chickens by law have to be buried, incinerated or hauled off — but this apparently does not always take place.
Bald eagles eat a variety of food ranging from freshly killed to long dead, even smelly and decaying.
The easier the food is to come by, the more eagles seem to go for it. Fish in a barrel? Shad in sewer ponds is probably a handier meal for the birds than seeking out and catching fish in a lake or river.
Injured ducks and other birds around water are often picked off by eagles. A healthy duck able to fly at full speed will likely be passed up by an eagle.