Little Brother Ethan at the National Eagle Center

A New Experience for my Little Brother

As a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern MN, the best part of my “job” is introducing my Little Brother, Ethan, to new places,┬áideas, and experiences. Last Sunday, we drove 80 miles to visit one of the great environmental education assets in the Midwest.

The NEC viewing room featuring four eagles

The National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN, is one of my favorite environmental centers. Located along the Mississippi River in Bluff Country, the Center is all about raptors, but most importantly focuses on eagles. Bald eagles are one of the great success stories in the U.S. They’ve recovered their numbers dramatically since the chemical DDT nearly wiped them out in the 1960s.

Staff member Jared showing off eagle ambassador Angel

Today, Minnesota is home to more bald eagles than any state except Alaska. Major concentrations of the huge, majestic birds are found all along the Mississippi. The biggest concentration is in the Wabasha and Lake Pepin areas. This area features open water nearly year-round, which eagles need to hunt their favorite food–fish.

Staff member Kenzie showing off Hollywood, the red-tailed hawk.

Ethan instantly connected with Was’aka (Wa-SHA-ka; meaning “strength” in Dakota), a male rescue eagle who was born with a huge tumor over his left eye which left him unable to hunt in the wild. Ethan could have connected with one of the other three birds in the viewing area, or with none of the birds, but the minute we entered the room Ethan focused on Was’aka about 90% of the time. Was’aka seemed particularly interested in Ethan too.

Ethan and Was’aka

We spent three hours at the NEC, watched two presentations where the highlight besides getting up close and personal with two huge birds (an eagle and a red-tailed hawk) was watching each of them eat their lunch, a dead rat. Amazingly, Ethan was grossed out by the crunching bones when the birds ate.

Ethan and Was’aka

If you’ve never been to the National Eagle Center and live within 100 miles of Wabasha, MN, take a day trip for a unique educational experience. If you live farther away, plan a visit and allow for visits on two different days. You’ll want to visit more than once. I know Ethan wants to return.

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