Ohio’s eagle count soars to success
Stepping out of the garage one recent morning, I was a tad surprised to flush a bald eagle from a large silver maple on the side yard, just 100 feet away.
I watched the great bird flap off toward wood-shrouded Muskellunge Creek a quarter mile away with nary a backward glance. Just the afternoon before, taking a break from outside chores in a sack chair on a sunny afternoon, I chanced to glance up to see a mature eagle circling over my pond and the surrounding creek bottom.
A few days before that I watched a pair of eagles in an involved courtship flight right over the house – ‘tis the season. I just know there is a nest somewhere nearby. I have been searching the local woodlots and creek bottoms for some years, though and its site remains elusive.
Fortunately, surveyors for the Division of Wildlife, an arm of the Ohio DNR were able to count 806 active eagle nests statewide during a recent mid-winter census. That is a stunning figure, the tally up almost 100 nests or 14% from a statewide 2020 survey, when 707 nests were counted.
Bald eagle nesting success was estimated at 82% in the spring of 2021, according to the wildlife division. The number of young per nest was 1.6, well above the number of 1 per nest needed to sustain the population, the productivity being similar to previous years. The 2022 estimate will be released following the nesting season.
“Every time I see a bald eagle I’m happy. It doesn’t matter how many there are,” said Julie Shieldcastle, a founder of the renowned Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ottawa County. “It still surprises me that some people act so surprised when they see one.”
That is because they are so numerous nowadays and have spread down river corridors and water bodies across the state.
Shieldcastle and I were comparing eagle notes recently. A veteran bird-bander whose assignments have taken her from Cape Cod to Colorado, has been close to eagles for some 30 years, during most of the species’ remarkable, 40-odd year recovery for near extirpation. The birds have not worn out their welcome with her. Her husband, Mark, was in charge of the state’s eagle recovery program for many years during a long career as a lead waterfowl-wetlands biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
The Division of Wildlife’s recent bald eagle nesting survey consisted of flying five blocks, each roughly 10 square miles, to search for eagle nests in woodlots and along rivers. Two of the blocks, one near Sandusky on Lake Erie and the other over Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area in northeast Ohio, are flown every year. The other three blocks are rotated every year. The 2021 blocks were located around Killbuck Wildlife Area, Grand Lake St. Marys, and the Maumee River in Defiance and Henry counties.
“Bald eagle management by the Division of Wildlife includes habitat conservation with an emphasis on wetlands and wooded river corridors, working with rehabilitators who help injured birds recover, and helping to enforce protective state and federal laws,” said Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker.
Bald eagles thrive in spaces with clean water and fish, their preferred food, though eagles often also scavenge roadkills. Lake Erie and other large waterbodies host the highest number of eagles because of easy access to food resources. Anyone can report a bald eagle nest at wildohio.gov or through the HuntFish OH mobile app.
The 2020 nest census aimed to locate every active bald eagle nest in Ohio. The results showed at least 707 active eagle nests in 85 counties. Most nests were confirmed on private property, with about 150 on public lands. Of those, 43 nests were located on Division of Wildlife properties.
The bald eagle was once an endangered species, with only four nesting pairs left in Ohio in 1979. Thanks to partnerships among the Division of Wildlife, Ohio zoos, wildlife rehabilitation facilities, concerned landowners, and conservationists its population increased. It all was part of a nationwide effort, which resulted in the bald eagle being removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007, and from Ohio’s list in 2012.
Bald eagles are protected under both state law and the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, making it illegal to disturb them. When viewing them, it is advised to stay at least 100 yards away. Disturbing eagles at the nest site could lead a pair to abandon the eggs.
Bald eagle habitat protection and research is funded by the sale of bald eagle conservation license plates, income tax check-off donations to the Endangered Species and Wildlife Diversity Fund, and sales of the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. Learn how to support Ohio’s wildlife at wildohio.gov.