By Molly Daly
If you’ve never seen a Bald Eagle in the wild, there’s an easy fix for that. You can see Bald Eagles — lots of them — a little more than an hour’s drive from Center City.
The Conowingo Dam was built on the lower Susquehanna River in Maryland more than 80 years ago to generate electricity. Nowadays, it also generates excitement.
“This is probably one of the best places on the whole East coast to see eagles,” says Joe, who regularly fishes in the river below the dam.
Although eagles are generally present at and around the dam throughout the year, their numbers swell in November and December. That’s because the wintering eagles are there to fish — a job made easier when the turbines run.
“There are all those fish getting chopped up in the dam, so it’s pretty easy hunting,” says Rod Welles, of Wilmington.
“It’s fast food,” says his wife, Sue.
While they’re waiting for dinner to be served, the birds perch on the massive electrical towers — in early December, I counted seven on one — in the trees around the parking lot, and on the rocks on the far side of the river. It’s exciting to see the birds swoop down and pluck a fish from the water, and even more so to watch the larcenous eagles chase each other in an effort to steal another bird’s catch.
Eagles aren’t the only birds that congregate below the dam. “I don’t know if you can see across there,” says Sue Welles, gesturing toward the island where the towers stand, “Those little bumps are all Great Blue Herons, 25 or 30 great Blue Herons.”
“All spaced along the wall,” says Rod, “like sentries.”
Like the eagles, the herons are there for the fish, and for the scraps the eagles drop when they dine on the towers. There’s also a large heronry, or nesting area, in the woods across the river. The area around the dam is also home to a large population of Black Vultures.
The eagles are present in a variety of plumage stages — the mottled brown and white feathering of immature birds, to the iconic white head and tail of adult birds.
Conowingo Dam is owned by Excelon Hydro; information and a link to directions can be found here.