A Legend Returns to Roost
In Ohio, it’s easy to see there are eagles among us.
The story behind the successful reintroduction of bald eagles to the Buckeye State has a fairytale-like quality: the proverbial wolf was at the door, but thanks to hard work and good people, the Nation’s symbol is once again flying high in our Ohio sky.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, however, the outlook was grim for this majestic bird. A steady loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides caused bald eagle population numbers to plummet, both here at home and across the country. By 1979, the number of breeding pairs in Ohio numbered only four, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife. In fact, those eight birds represented the only known breeding eagles in the wild anywhere along the Great Lakes.
Ohio initiated its Bald Eagle Restoration Program that same year. Through habitat development and protection, fostering of young eagles, public education and extensive monitoring - including observation of nesting behavior and leg banding of offspring - the ODNR Division of Wildlife has helped bald eagles regain a “talon hold” in Ohio.
In 2004 the state marked a milestone in the recovery of this American symbol with 108 nesting bald eagle pairs; this signified the
first time more than 100 nests have been recorded. On the heels of that success, Ohio saw its eagle nest numbers grow to 125 this year. Of those, 85 were successful, producing an estimated 136 young. While these young eagles might migrate in the fall and at other times, those that reach breeding maturity are likely to come back to Ohio, establishing nesting territories in the areas in which they were reared.
Thirty-nine Ohio counties boasted at least one eagle nest this past spring, most of which were located along Lake Erie’s western marshes. Yet in the last few years, there has been an increase of inland nests. In fact, for the first time in memory, a bald eagle nest has been identified along the Buckeye side of the Ohio River in Brown County - that nest and one in neighboring Highland County represent the first in modern times to be located in southwestern Ohio.
Keeping an eagle eye on the national symbol
While Ohio can boast a healthy and growing bald eagle population, wildlife biologists continue to research and monitor the progress of this state endangered species. Concerns over habitat loss and water pollution are real threats to the eagles’ continued success.
Although protecting and managing Ohio’s bald eagle population falls mainly on the shoulders of professional wildlife biologists, volunteer nest observers - folks like you and me - have played an important role in collecting vital information. After attending training, volunteers devote numerous hours watching and recording what is occurring at each active eagle nest across the state. With so many helpful pairs of eyes reporting their findings, wildlife biologists are able to follow the reproductive and nesting efforts more thoroughly.
As the numbers of bald eagles in Ohio grow so do your viewing opportunities, especially along the Lake Erie coast. If you’re driving in the area, be sure to keep a pair of binoculars handy ... but don’t forget to pull over first before getting a closer look of this amazing bird of prey!
Laura Jones, ODNR Office of Communications
One of North America’s largest birds, an adult bald eagle has a black body that is offset by snowy white head and neck feathers. Its beak, feet and eyes are a bright yellow.
Bald eagles typically build their nests up high in large trees, usually close to a body of water. Constructed from twigs and branches, bald eagle nests are massive, usually measuring three to five feet across and three to six feet deep - about the size of a bathtub. They can weigh as much as one ton.
The largest eagle nest of all time was recorded right here in Ohio. Appropriately known as the “Great Nest,” it was located near Vermilion in Lorain County in the 1890s. The giant nest measured 8-feet across, was 12 feet deep and weighed nearly two tons - the size of a small pickup truck! Perched 80 feet from the ground, it was used by different eagle pairs for more than 35 years until a storm blew it down in 1925.
Eagle fun facts
- Female eagles average 3 feet in length and weigh about 13 pounds
- Male eagles are about 2.5 feet in length and weight around 10 pounds.
- Adult eagles have around 7,000 feathers and have a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet!
- Young eagles are a mottled brown before developing their distinctive white head at five to six years of age.
- An eagle’s life span in the wild is generally 15 to 20 years.
- Mature females generally lay two eggs each spring. Both the female and male eagles share in building nests, incubating eggs and feeding their young.