(Photo by Claudia Valadez)

Everyone has just about had it with the winter of 2014. But all of the bitterly cold air freezing such a large area has resulted in at least one extra cool thing appearing in the Riverside and Brookfield area:

Bald eagles.

While ducks and geese and cranes are common sights along the Des Plaines River and Salt Creek, bald eagles haven’t been so common around these parts. But lately there have been several reports of the birds — and some photos as well.

“My husband and I like to take our route down Riverside Road when we go grocery shopping,” said Brookfield resident Claudia Valadez. “And while we were driving, my husband noticed something pretty big out of the corner of his eye. ‘It’s an eagle!'”

That was on Sunday, Feb. 23, and the couple continued on their way, but when they made the return trip an hour later, the eagle was still there perched in a tree branch near the intersection of Riverside and Olmsted.

So Claudia, who is a photography buff, drove home, grabbed her camera and returned to Riverside.

“And out of nowhere, another one comes by and lands right next to it,” said Valadez. “It was kind of exciting to see that.”

On Monday, Riverside Public Works Director Edward Bailey was sitting in his office, which is located almost right across the river from where Valadez spied the eagles. Sure enough, he saw a bald eagle perched on a branch over the river.

In late January, Brookfield resident Tom Krankoski was looking out a window at his South Hollywood home, when he saw “a bald eagle doing 360s” in the vicinity of Brookfield and McCormick avenues.

“You can’t miss them; they’re gorgeous,” said Krankoski, a longtime resident of Riverside and Brookfield.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve seen one on just one other occasion, on a national election day about six years ago.”

Riverside resident Cyril Friend said he was astonished when he looked out his bedroom window in the village’s First Division near the Des Plaines River and saw a large object swooping through the air to the west.

“My mind registered, ‘Holy crap that’s a big bird out there!” said Friend, who rushed to the window. “It was circling around and you could see the big, white fan tail and white head. Then it comes over the house, and I sprinted from the front to the back of the house and saw it fly away toward the quarry.”

A 23-year resident of Riverside, Friend said he’s never seen a bald eagle in the area before.

“And we live right by the river and hike along it all the time,” said Friend.

According to Chris Anchor, a wildlife biologist for the Cook County Forest Preserve District, 2014 so far has been “a big, big year” for bald eagles.

“We’re having a real winter, so birds that would have stayed in Wisconsin and Minnesota are coming south to find open water,” Anchor said. “Plus the population of bald eagles has gone up tremendously in the last decade. The population density has reached a point where their growth is fabulous right now.”

While it’s not unusual to see one or two bald eagles during a winter in these parts, said Anchor, “This year has been one of those exceptional years. Birds are hard pressed to find food right now.”

It’s not a coincidence that the eagles seen lurking by the Des Plaines on Sunday and Monday were there just after a thaw opened up the river, which had been frozen solid for weeks.

Anchor said eagles at this time of year are looking to prey on a fish called the gizzard shad, which die off around this time each winter.

“The dead shad are easy pickings for eagles and they’ll exploit that quickly,” said Anchor, adding that the eagles may be hanging around longer if water stays frozen to the north.

“As the water opens up [around here], you should expect to see more birds,” said Anchor.

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