Bald eagles do have a small year-round presence in Indiana, but it is in the winter when their numbers really soar.
"We may have a 1,000 eagles in the state at one time during the winter,” said John Castrale, wildlife biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “They come down from the north from areas such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where things really freeze, forcing the birds to seek open water. During the winter, much of their diet is fish and water fowl.
"This year there is not much unfrozen waters on lakes and ponds, so there are tremendous concentrations of geese and ducks on rivers.”
It is in the southern and central parts of the state where a majority of the bald eagles currently visit.
"We’ve done some surveys. It has been a good year in southern Indiana and along the Wabash and White Rivers in the central part of the state,” Castrale said. “It is common to see a collection of a group of a dozen eagles at any one time along the Wabash.
There is also a large group that roost at night in the Sugar Creek area in Parke County, he said. They frequent the Wabash River in the early morning to the open water near a power plant.
"You may see 50 to 100 eagles that come in a period of about an hour," he said. "These numbers are unusual for that area.”
Although many of the eagles fly over or around the northwestern part of the state, there are occasional scattered winter reports, as well as some permanent nesting areas.
"Willow Slough and the Kankakee Fish and Wildlife areas are a couple of spots where you are likely to see some nesting eagles,” Castrale said.
For region bird watchers who want the chance to see eagles closer to home, there has been a nesting pair along the Little Calumet River in the Gary/Hammond area, he said.
As the numbers of bald eagles expand throughout the nation and especially in the Midwest, Northwest Indiana might start seeing an increase in numbers.
"Regionally, there has been an expansion of bald eagle numbers over at Starved Rock (Illinois state park) and along the Mississippi in Western Illinois,” said Ralph Grundel, research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “I believe there are more eagles in those two areas over the winter than in any other place in North America except for Alaska.
"I think that Northwest Indiana can be on the ascent with bald eagles just like we’ve seen with the sandhill crane over the past six years. Nobody saw any cranes for a long, long time and then there was a pair one year then a couple more each year. I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t happen with the eagles now that we’ve had a nesting pair around for a couple of years. Over the course of 10 years, we may see quite a few around here breeding.”