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Majestic bird draws crowds to the Mississippi, Clinton Community College

CLINTON, Iowa – There is a lot about eagles people don’t know.

For instance, do you know how the bald eagle, whose head actually is covered in white feathers, got its name?

In colonial times, bald meant white as well as hairless, and that’s how the national bird got its name.

That’s something most people, including teachers, usually don’t know, said Joe Hand, a volunteer with the Wildlife Prairie State Park in Hanna City.

A live bird by his side, Hand shared his expertise at the “Live Birds of Prey” program Saturday at Clinton Community College, during the 29th annual Clinton Bald Eagle Watch.

Click here to see video

Among those at the college learning about eagles and other birds of prey were Andrea Thielen and her family, who live between Coleta and Milledgeville. They attended the event for the first time.

Thielen, 38, said they came to see the eagles.

“I love eagles,” she said.

Her husband, Sean, 41, and their three children, Thomas, 14, Mikayla, 10, and Patricia, 9, all seemed to enjoy the birds.

“I thought they were cool,” Mikayla said. Like Mom, eagles also are her favorite bird, and she was impressed by their size.

The eagles don’t get their signature white head and tail feathers until they turn 5, Hand said. That’s when people begin identifying them, he said.

Another eagle tidbit most people don’t know has to do with the movies. The sound used in movies to represent an eagle is in fact a red-tailed hawk, Hand said.

A shuttle bus was available to take people from the college across the Mississippi to Lock and Dam 13 in Fulton, where they could watch eagles in the wild. Telescopes were provided for those who did not bring binoculars.

Crowds braved the bitter cold and stood on the platform deck, admiring a flock of eagles sitting in a tree near the dam. Eagles also soared above, and skimmed the surface of the river fishing for a meal.

Attending the eagle watch was an early birthday present for Abigale Rhodes of Clinton, who turns 7 today. She was with her mother, Rebekah Ebensberger, 32, and grandmother, Christine Nichols, 57, also of Clinton.

They gathered on the platform taking turns using binoculars. Abigale sported an eagle tattoo painted on her cheek.

The eagles are “cool,” she said, adding that she had attended the event before.

The family, in fact, has been attending for at least 20 years, Nichols said.

“It’s such a huge bird and it’s so majestic,” Nichols said. “Just a beautiful bird.”

Online extras

Go to to learn more about Wildlife Prairie State Park in Hanna City.

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