It’s amazing how things can change in almost half a century, especially when it comes to wildlife.
With an adequate habitat and cleaner environment, it is now common for people to see a bald eagle. That wasn’t the case nearly 50 years ago, when there were only four breeding pairs of this large raptor in the state.
Although there is no specific number of breeding pairs, the Ohio Division of Wildlife (DOW) has estimated that there are 806 bald eagle nests in Ohio. The census currently includes active, absent and inactive nests, although the majority of nests were active with eagles present, brood or with young. Protected by law, inactive nests are counted.
According to a DOW press release, the wildlife agency’s nest survey consisted of flying over five blocks, each about 10 square miles in size, to look for eagle nests in forests and along rivers. Two of the blocks, one near Sandusky on Lake Erie and the other over the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area in northeast Ohio, are flown each year. The other three blocks are rotated every year. The 2021 blocks were located in the vicinity of Killbuck Wildlife Area, Grand Lake St. Marys and the Maumee River in Defiance and Henry counties.
The DOW says the reason the bald eagle population has thrived is because of a cleaner environment as a result of the ban on DDT and the regulation of other environmental pollutants. It also cited the bald eagle’s adaptability to a landscape altered by human activity, along with other human intervention efforts such as wildlife rehabilitation.
The productivity rate of breeding pairs in the state is about 1.6 in recent years, according to the DOW. This rate is above the 1 per nest required to sustain the eagle population.
In the nine counties of the Lima region, there were 58 nests in the last county by county breakdown in 2020, and each county had at least two nests. A county-by-county breakdown for this year has not yet been listed. During a 2012 county census — the year bald eagles were removed from the state’s threatened species list — four (Allen, Auglaize, Shelby, and Van Wert) of the nine counties did not have an eagle’s nest.
Mercer leads the area with 16 nests from the 2020 census. Other counties and number of nests from this census are: Allen 5, Auglaize 4, Hancock 12, Hardin 9, Logan 8, Putnam 8, Shelby 3 and Van Wert 2.
There are certain characteristics that lead bald eagles to build nests in specific locations, including proximity to Lake Erie and/or the presence of large lakes, reservoirs, sizable wetlands, or large river corridors with mature trees that provide nesting habitats.
One reason counties along Lake Erie like Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie have large numbers of nests is the high concentration of coastal wetlands, which DOW says are ideal habitat for bald eagles.
My wife and I were visiting our daughter in Port Clinton last weekend and while checking out the duck migration, noticed a number of bald eagles and nests. It is unusual not to see an eagle flying or perched on or near a nest on a trip through Ohio 2. You often see a couple sitting together in a tree. Because the nests are so large, they are easy to spot at this time of year.
Some nests were destroyed in the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area during a summer storm last year. We’ve seen where eagles appear to be building new nests near some old sites. We also saw an eagle flying with a big stick for its nest. While both members of a pair bring materials to a nest, it is usually the female who places the materials.
A number of immature eagles can also be seen along Lake Erie. About 25% of birds acquire adult plumage by the age of 4 1/2 years. By the time an eagle is 5 1/2 years old it acquires the all-white head and tail plumage of an adult. The adult plumage is preserved throughout the bird’s life.
Bald eagles remain protected by state and federal laws, including the federal Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
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This past Saturday and Sunday, the weather along Lake Erie was contrasting as Saturday was wet, windy and cold while Sunday featured sunny, blue bird skies. It was a great two days for early birds visiting the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge near Oak Harbor and the West Harbor Landing Refuge on Catawba Island, the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, the Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area near Oak Harbor and the Explored Howard Marsh Metropark in Curtice.
Saturday produced a bonanza of various waterfowl species and an abundance of ducks. We saw a fair number of ducks on Sunday but that day offered us white pelicans and sandhill cranes in flight. We also saw Trumpeter Swans, Great Egrets and Blue Heron.
Among the duck species we saw were: mallard, wood duck, common goosander, red-breasted goosander, ringneck, scaup, shoveler, redhead, bumphead, gadwall and great crested grebe. We also saw a lot of coots. However, they are not classified as a duck, but as a rail. They are also called mud chickens.
A pair of bald eagles are shown in their nest. The number of bald eagle nests in Ohio is now estimated at 806.
Al Smith is a freelance outdoor writer. You can contact him [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @alsmithFL