Bald eagle moves into Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood and spirits soar

A bald eagle takes off from a tree Friday along the North Branch of the Chicago River near the Montrose Avenue Bridge on the Northwest Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A bald eagle has called Irving Park home for the last week, delighting neighbors and drawing in birders from across the city.

The large raptor took a low pass on the North Branch of the Chicago River Friday morning, prompting John Viramontes to slam his brakes on the Montrose Avenue bridge.

The Belmont Cragin resident was driving to Horner Park to see the bird himself after hearing about it on social media. But it was gone by the time he had parked.

He’s seen bald eagles before. “But every time you see it, it’s like a new thing — a new experience,” said Viramontes, 72. “Oh, it’s so beautiful.”

A bald eagle sits in a tree Friday along the North Branch of the Chicago River near the Montrose Avenue Bridge on the Northwest Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Bald eagles are not rare in the Chicago area. But it’s unusual for an eagle stay near Horner Park, said Matt Igleski, executive director of the Chicago Bird Alliance.

They can usually be found in wooded areas near Evanston and Skokie Lagoons, and south near Lake Calumet at Big Marsh, he said. He’s even seen them in central areas of the city, including Lincoln Park. But they’re usually passing through, not settling in.

“It sounds like there’s just one that decided that it’s a good spot to just hang out,” Igleski said. It’s likely just one eagle, he said. They can easily fly miles up and down stream, hunting for fish.

Eagles usually hunt for fish on rivers and lakes in the winter, Igleski said. This particular eagle likely moved away from a water source that froze during the recent cold spell and moved to a faster-moving part of the Chicago River that was still unfrozen, he said.

On Friday morning, the eagle flew through the trees of Horner Park before turning back and cruising up the river past Wilson Avenue.

“That’s it. That’s it. You see it? White tail, white head,” said Mark Hines, while walking his small dog along the river. He had seen a bald eagle a few weeks earlier at River Park, farther north near Foster Avenue.

“First time I’ve ever seen one down here,” said Hines, who has lived a half block from the Chicago River near Horner Park for 20 years.

Hines has seen more wildlife in this part of the city recently.

“We see coyotes regularly here. Raccoons, possums, fox. Have yet to see a deer. Lots of hawks, turkey vultures.”

Mark Hines walks his dog while keeping a lookout for a bald eagle Friday along the North Branch of the Chicago River near the Montrose Avenue Bridge on the Northwest Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Chicago River has been cleaned up in the last decade and become more hospitable to wildlife, said Sigrid Schmidt, who’s lived on the river opposite Horner Park for nearly 40 years.

“It rarely smells now,” said Schmidt, a member of the Chicago Ornithological Society. “There’s a lot more birds and wildlife than even 10 years go.”

She saw her first eagle pass by her back window around five years ago. “I nearly fainted,” she said.

Some of the eagles spotted around Chicago have migrated for the winter from the Yukon or as far as the Arctic Circle, Igleski said. But some stay in the metro area the whole year, he said.

Bald eagles sometimes gather in large groups in the city during the winter. Igleski has seen a dozen eagles together at Big Marsh, and one time saw 17 together just west at Lake Calumet. Bald eagles gather in groups of 50 along the Mississippi River on the border with Iowa, he said.

John Viramontes takes a photo of a heron while searching for a bald eagle Friday along the North Branch of the Chicago River near the Montrose Avenue Bridge on the Northwest Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Igleski’s tips for spotting bald eagles:

Bald eagles are most often found at lakes or rivers. During the winter, eagles spend most of their time hunting for fish. “Your best bet is to stick along the river,” Igleski said.Look up. “Sometimes people forget that. If a bird is perched up in a tree, you may miss it,” Igleski said.Consider the time of day. The eagle at Horner Park has been spotted in the morning hours. But every bird has its own hunting pattern, and there’s no specific time for spotting bald eagles, Igleski said.Binoculars aren’t necessary. Bald eagles are large birds easily identifiable by their white head and tail. The eagle near Horner Park has been hunting, taking low passes near the ground when it’s not perched high in a tree, Igleski said.Bald eagles are also known to perch at Big Marsh, Lake Calumet and the Skokie Lagoons.

A bald eagle takes off from a tree Friday along the North Branch of the Chicago River near the Montrose Avenue Bridge on the Northwest Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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