OAK HARBOR, OH -- A completed survey of bald eagles in Ohio revealed a record number of 204 eagles identified by the annual mid-winter survey with the national symbol being sighted in a record 31 counties across the state, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
Wildlife officials recently completed the state's mid-winter eagle survey using observations from on-ground field personnel and volunteers with aerial observations. This year's observation of 127 adult eagles topped last year's record of 108 mature eagles.
The survey identified 77 immature eagles (birds less than five years old), down from last year's count of 87. Wildlife biologists attribute the decrease to December's harsh weather that drove young eagles farther south than in previous years.
Conducted by state wildlife officials each January, the survey is part of a nationwide tally to determine the wintering bald and golden eagle populations in North America. Last year's eagle survey recorded 195 bald eagles across the state. Golden eagles are very rarely seen in the Buckeye State and none were observed this year.
"The slightly lower number of immature eagles in the state is no surprise, and we expect these birds to return to areas where they fledged when a major thaw occurs. Eagles of breeding age usually remain in the state year-round," said Mark Shieldcastle, wildlife biologist with the ODNR Division of Wildlife.
"This year's record number, and high survey counts over the past several years, indicate the nation's symbol continues to gain ground in Ohio. As the breeding population of eagles continues to increase, we can expect the mid-winter surveys to increase as well," he said.
Last year, a record 63 bald eagle pairs nested in the state and raised a record 88 eaglets.
Observers found eagles in a record 31 counties during this year's two-week survey. The highest number of eagles were reported in counties along western Lake Erie: Erie (26), Ottawa (24), and Lucas (18). Nearby Sandusky and Seneca counties each had 17 sightings.
The biggest surprise in the survey was in southern Ohio counties.
"Ten eagles were recorded in Muskingum County and eight eagles in Scioto County, which are exceptionally high numbers for southern counties," Shieldcastle said. "Many of these birds are likely adult pairs that nest in the southeastern Ohio region or have fledged from nests in the region. A recent trend in Ohio's eagle population is the establishment of nesting territories in that section of the state. Last year 10 eaglets were raised in nine nests in southern Ohio."
Only six bald eagles were observed statewide during the first winter survey conducted in 1979, the year the Division of Wildlife began the state's bald eagle restoration program. Bald eagle numbers declined dramatically nationwide during the 1960s and 1970s from habitat loss and the effects of toxic chemicals in the environment. Eagle numbers gradually rebounded due to increased protection, wildlife management efforts, wetland restoration projects, strong citizen support and a ban on certain pesticides in 1972.
The state's bald eagle restoration efforts are funded by the sale of Ohio conservation license plates including the bald eagle and cardinal plates, and contributions to the state income tax checkoff program for wildlife diversity and endangered species. The license plates can be purchased through a deputy registrar license outlet or by calling the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles toll-free at 1-888-PLATES3.
Ohio taxpayers can donate all or a portion of their state income tax refund to the Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species Fund by checking the appropriate box on their 2000 state income tax form.