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National Eagle Center, Wabasha

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Color image of a National Eagle Center employee shows a bald eagle to visitors during a 2015 educational program.

A National Eagle Center employee shows a bald eagle to visitors during an educational program, 2015.

The National Eagle Center is an educational, interpretive center located on the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha. Committed to fostering environmental stewardship and community sustainability through education about eagles and the Mississippi River watershed, the National Eagle Center exhibits non-releasable bald and golden eagles and offers opportunities to view wild eagles throughout the year.

The Upper Mississippi River Valley is home to hundreds of bald eagles; many build their nests in the tall trees along the river valley. Hundreds more migrate to the area in the winter months, since the Mississippi River remains free of ice year-round near Wabasha. Open water in the winter attracts bald eagles eager to feed on the abundant fish.

In 1989, the National Eagle Center began as Eagle Watch, Inc. A group of local volunteers shared with visitors to Wabasha views of wintering bald eagles from an outdoor observation deck along the river. At this time, bald eagles were still rare and endangered. Wabasha was one of the few places where bald eagles could be seen in the wild. Birdwatchers and others interested in seeing the nation’s symbol flying wild flocked there to see bald eagles congregating along the river each winter.

In 2000, the National Eagle Center opened a year-round interpretive center in downtown Wabasha. The first two eagle ambassadors, Harriet and Angel, arrived. These eagles were permanently injured and deemed non-releasable. They, and the other eagle ambassadors who have arrived in the years since, have become educators on behalf of their wild cousins. They educate the public about conserving the habitats on which eagles and other wildlife depend.

In 2007, in a partnership with the City of Wabasha, the National Eagle Center opened a fifteen-thousand-square-foot interpretive center on the banks of the Mississippi River. At this facility, visitors enjoy views of wild eagles and meet the resident bald and golden eagle ambassadors. Through daily educational programs and interactive exhibits, visitors learn about the ecology, biology, and natural history of eagles and the Mississippi River watershed.

The National Eagle Center educates visitors about eagles in North America, both bald eagles and golden eagles. The Golden Eagle Project is focused on learning more about the golden eagles that winter in the blufflands of southeast Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and northeast Iowa. Through annual surveys and GPS tracking of several birds, the project has expanded the world’s knowledge of golden eagles in the Midwest. The National Eagle Center also offers field trips with expert naturalist guides to view bald and golden eagles in the wild.

Visitors from across the country and around the world come to the National Eagle Center to experience eagles up close. With an annual attendance of eighty thousand, the National Eagle Center is a regional tourist attraction and an important part of Wabasha’s economy.

The center’s annual “SOAR with the Eagles” festival celebrates the spring bald-eagle migration with special programs and events in March. Each summer, hundreds of kids participate in Fishing for Eagles to learn about responsible angling and offer their catches to feed the bald eagle ambassadors. In 2015, the National Eagle Center took its first steps toward a facility expansion, purchasing nearby property in Wabasha’s historic downtown.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Jacobson, C.J., and Peg Bauernfiend. A Vision Takes Flight: A History of the National Eagle Center 1989–2014. Wabasha, MN: National Eagle Center, 2013.

National Eagle Center. Fishing for Eagles.
http://www.nationaleaglecenter.org/fishing-for-eagles

National Eagle Center. SOAR with the Eagles.
http://www.nationaleaglecenter.org/soar-with-the-eagles

Related Images

Color image of a National Eagle Center employee shows a bald eagle to visitors during a 2015 educational program.
Color image of a National Eagle Center employee shows a bald eagle to visitors during a 2015 educational program.
Color image of National Eagle Center visitors watch eagles from the center's observation deck, 2013.
Color image of National Eagle Center visitors watch eagles from the center's observation deck, 2013.
Color image of the he National Eagle Center in Wabasha, 2008.
Color image of the he National Eagle Center in Wabasha, 2008.
Color image of Minnesota "Support Our Troops" license plate featuring Harriet, a bald eagle ambassador from the National Eagle Center.
Color image of Minnesota "Support Our Troops" license plate featuring Harriet, a bald eagle ambassador from the National Eagle Center.
Black and white photograph of former State Representative Gil Gutknecht, c.1983.
Black and white photograph of former State Representative Gil Gutknecht, c.1983.
Color image of Harriet, a female bald eagle and one of the National Eagle Center's first ambassadors.
Color image of Harriet, a female bald eagle and one of the National Eagle Center's first ambassadors.
Color image of Angel, a female bald eagle and one of the National Eagle Center's first ambassadors.
Color image of Angel, a female bald eagle and one of the National Eagle Center's first ambassadors.
Color image of Angel, a female bald eagle and one of the National Eagle Center's first ambassadors, perches on top of the center's sign.
Color image of Angel, a female bald eagle and one of the National Eagle Center's first ambassadors, perches on top of the center's sign.
Color image of Bald eagles Harriet and Angel: the National Eagle Center's first ambassadors.
Color image of Bald eagles Harriet and Angel: the National Eagle Center's first ambassadors.
Color image of Donald, a male golden eagle and National Eagle Center ambassador.
Color image of Donald, a male golden eagle and National Eagle Center ambassador.
Color image of Donald, a male golden eagle and National Eagle Center ambassador, spreading his wings. Photographed by Janet Killian.
Color image of Donald, a male golden eagle and National Eagle Center ambassador, spreading his wings. Photographed by Janet Killian.
Color image of Donald, a male golden eagle and National Eagle Center ambassador, participating in the center's "Meet the Eagles" program.
Color image of Donald, a male golden eagle and National Eagle Center ambassador, participating in the center's "Meet the Eagles" program.

Turning Point

In 2007, in a partnership with the City of Wabasha, the National Eagle Center opens a fifteen-thousand-square-foot interpretive center on the banks of the Mississippi River. At this new facility, tens of thousands of visitors enjoy views of wild eagles and meet the resident eagle ambassadors.

Chronology

1989

Eaglewatch, Inc. is founded in Wabasha.

1998

Minnesota Congressman Gil Gutknecht sponsors a bill to have Eaglewatch, Inc. designated as the “National Eagle Center.”

1998

The first eagle interpretive center and gift store opens in downtown Wabasha.

2000

Harriet and Angel, the first eagle ambassadors, arrive at the National Eagle Center. Harriet (nineteen years old) is an adult female bald eagle. Angel (two years old) is a juvenile female bald eagle.

2003

Columbia, a juvenile female bald eagle, arrives at the National Eagle Center.

2005

Harriet is chosen to appear on Minnesota’s Support Our Troops license plate.

2007

The bald eagle is removed from the federal endangered-species list.

2007

In September, the National Eagle Center celebrates the grand opening of a fifteen-thousand-square-foot interpretive center on the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha.

2008

Donald, an adult male golden eagle, arrives at the National Eagle Center.

2009

Was’aka, a juvenile male bald eagle, arrives at the National Eagle Center.

2014

Harriet, now thirty-three years old, retires from active programming. The National Eagle Center rents a nearby facility to accommodate non-public, retirement housing for Harriet, and provide housing for new eagle ambassadors.

2014

In January, the National Eagle Center conducts its tenth annual wintering golden eagle survey throughout southeast Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and northeast Iowa.

2015

The National Eagle Center acquires nearby properties in Wabasha’s historic downtown in preparation for a facility expansion.