Whether or not you see a bunch of bald eagles in the Quad-Cities this winter, the annual Bald Eagle Days celebration at the QCCA Expo Center promises plenty of wild sightings.
For three days, the Rock Island expo center will transform into an indoor wildlife exhibit sure to dazzle -- and educate -- the whole family.
Read on for information about ticket prices, the history of Bald Eagle Days, as well as what's new this year (hint: more exoitic animals).
Here are 10 things to know about Bald Eagle Days.
1. When and where
Let’s start with the basics. Bald Eagle Days runs Friday through Sunday. It is slated for 4-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the QCCA Expo Center, 2621 4th Ave., Rock Island.
2. Get tickets
Ticket-buying is going modern this year, says QCCA Expo Center show director Robert Junker. For the first time, you can skip the lines and buy tickets for Bald Eagle Days in advance. Just visit qccaexpocenter.com/bald-eagle-event. You can still buy passes at the door. Prices are $6 for adults, $1 for children ages 6-15. Admission is free for kids 5 and younger.
3. Bigger and better
Bald Eagle Days is billed as the largest event in the Midwest dedicated to our national bird. “One of the coolest things about Bald Eagle Days is there’s nothing like it in the country,” Junker said. “It’s well-attended and it’s big.”
In previous years, about 20,000 people have attended the multi-day celebration at the expo center.
And this year, he said, it’s set to be bigger and better.
“You want to offer the same things and also surprise some people,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
4. What’s inside
As hundreds of bald eagles make the Quad-Cities home in January and February, you can get a taste of the wild without going outside.
“We don’t like the cold so much, but the eagles sure do,” Junker said. “The expo is a way to get in on the fun without freezing out there.”
Inside the 60,000-square-foot facility, “you basically have a miniature zoo in a building,” Junker said.
The annual event includes live eagle programs and live bird of prey demonstrations and more than 100 display booths with information on outdoors-related organizations.
Various birds from the Wild Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, Missouri, and animals from Niabi Zoo, Coal Valley, will also be there.
5. New animals
You’ll get the chance to see plenty of animals foreign to the Midwest this weekend. The 2017 demonstrator is Jim Nesci's Cold Blooded Creatures. He’ll offer up-close presentations with alligators, snakes, lizards and at least one tortoise, as well as information about each of those creatures’ natural habitats.
"We used to just have wolves and birds," Junker said. “Now, there’s all kinds of things you could see up close.”
6. See them up close
Admission to the expo center provides guests with the opportunity to join the QC Audubon Society for free guided bus tours around the QCA for outdoor eagle viewing. There will be a free shuttle bus service from the Expo Center to Sunset Marina in Rock Island where spotters will guide eagle-watching opportunities.
While this is the 50th anniversary of outdoors Q-C eagle watching, it’s the 30th anniversary of the event at the QCCA Expo Center. Indoor educational programs started at the Milan Community Center, moved to Modern Woodmen Park and then, in 1987, found a home at the QCCA Expo Center.
“It has changed over the years with more animals and more booths and more people,” Junker said. "The whole idea was bringing entertainment and information together, and we’re still doing that.”
8. Focus on conservation
Junker said he wants to remind Quad-Citians that the mission of Bald Eagle Days is conserving the area’s natural resources, most notably the Mississippi River.
"We're showing off all these animals and also teaching what it takes to rehabilitate these animals," he said. "The underlying message is take care of the animals and don't throw plastic in the river."
Since 1984, the QCCA have raised more than $1,200,000 to be invested in the Quad-Cities for conservation activities.
9. Volunteers and vendors
It takes about 600 to 1,000 volunteers from about 100 organizations to make Bald Eagle Days happen. Junker, who is in his seventh year as show director, says that’s the highest number of vendors and volunteers required for any event at the expo center all year.
“We end up having just about anything connected to bald eagles you could want, from T-shirts to magnets to other souvenirs,” he said. “We want to make sure people have something to leave with and remember it by, even if it’s a photo with an animal.”
10. All about the kids
Each year, when busloads of children and students from area schools arrive at the expo center, Junker can hardly wait for their reactions.
For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve seen snakes, monkeys, hawks, owls and eagles -- and the first time they’ve seen those animals so close.
“I love seeing kids see an eagle or falcon and seeing their eyes light up,” he said. “Some kids say it’s the best field trip ever, and it just makes my day. That's what it's all about."