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What once was a rarity in the United States and nearly unheard of in Michigan is now common at our Monroe Power Plant: viewing bald eagles in the wild.

Each winter, as many as 200 “live” national symbols come from Canada, Ohio and other parts of Michigan to take up winter residence at the plant. This is not a random occurrence and Monroe Power Plant is one of only a handful of places in North America where this phenomenon happens.  

From December to February, the Monroe Power Plant’s lush 800-acre wildlife preserve becomes a winter home to as many as 200 migrating bald eagles. That’s due to the plant’s location along a migratory flight pattern. This turns the plant into a popular gathering point for scores of bald eagles, especially in the winter when the plant’s relatively warm discharge water prevents a portion of Lake Erie from freezing over, attracting fish and birds of prey.

“The warmer water creates a high concentration of fish that move from the colder water of Lake Erie into an area named Plum Creek Bay,” said Jeffery Hensley, supervisor of administration at Monroe Power Plant. “This gives the eagles an endless buffet that allows them to feed as much as they could possibly imagine.”

The number of eagles that come to the plant is contingent on the size of Lake Erie’s winter ice layer.

“The larger the ice cover, the more eagles we have,” said Kristen LeForce, a biologist with Environmental Management & Resources. “This year, we’ve had approximately 75 so far. We had more than 200 the year of the Polar Vortex, which caused an especially frigid winter.”

The eagles start returning to their birth places in March when the weather warms though a few nesting pairs live at the plant year-round.

The privilege of eagle watching isn’t just for the employees and contractors who work at the Monroe Power Plant. Each year, our company partners with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to give members of the public the opportunity to view the iconic birds of prey at the Monroe Power Plant during the annual Bald Eagle Tour. This January marked the 10th year we’ve opened our gates to the lucky few whose names were chosen from thousands of applicants.

Once an endangered species with fewer than 500 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states, bald eagles have made a tremendous comeback because of government protection and conservation efforts, with an estimated 5,000 nesting pairs and about 70,000 total bald eagles currently living in the U.S. and Canada.

The population was shrinking because of the effects of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and other persistent pesticides, which caused eagle eggs to have thin shells that shattered when mothers sat on them for incubation. Habitat loss decimated the population as well.

Monroe’s nature preserve isn’t just an ideal habitat for bald eagles. In all, more than 150 species call the Monroe Power Plant home including the state-threatened Eastern Fox Snake, Peregrine Falcon, Spotted Turtle and American Lotus flowers.