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In this November photo, a mature bald eagle is perched atop a utility pole along Front Street in Morgan City.

The Daily Review/Bill Decker

Eagle Expo canceled due to COVID

Chalk up another COVID-19 cancellation. This time, the victims are admirers of the national bird.

The pandemic has led the Cajun Coast Tourism and Convention Bureau to cancel this year’s Eagle Expo. The annual expo offers participants the chance to see bald eagles in the wild.

The cancellation also means local students won’t have the chance to see birds of prey up close, and expo participants won’t get to hear from experts about eagles and other important bird species.

But Cajun Coast is working on another activity for birders later in the spring. Those plans aren’t final.

The Eagle Expo draws local and out-of-state people each February for activities that include eagle-spotting boat tours down the area’s canals and bayous. The bald eagles seldom disappoint in the Atchalafaya region, where expo-goers can see eagles perched above the waterways or tending to eaglets in nests that can weigh a ton.

In the days leading up to each expo, school children gathered to see a Wings to Soar demonstration that included live birds of prey.

“It helped out for sure,” Cajun Coast Executive Director Carrie Stansbury said. “It created some tourism opportunities and we got X number of hotel rooms.”

But COVID spoiled the fun in a number of ways.

Many of the expo-goers are of an age at which COVID travel restrictions are recommended. And the cost for taking part in a boat tour to look for eagles is based on splitting the cost among the boat-riders. Reducing the number of riders would make the cost to each rider too high, Stansbury said.

Many of the experts from government agencies and universities who would normally speak or serve as tour guides are restricting their travel, too.

And local schools weren’t eager to bring large numbers of kids together for a Wings to Soar outing.

Rescheduling isn’t a reasonable option. The mid- to late-February weekends when the Eagle Expos have been held are picked because that’s when bald eagles are in this region. Eagles migrate in the course of a year, some as far as Alaska, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The trees also are bare of leaves in late winter, Stansbury said. And “the eaglets are either just getting out of their eggs or learning how to fly.”

Stansbury said Cajun Coast is considering an April event for birders. A piece of private land near Patterson is under consideration.

That event wouldn’t be as structured as the Eagle Expo.

“You could just bring your lawn chairs and look for birds,” Stansbury said.

COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival and the region’s upcoming Mardi Gras parades.

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