Animal Tails: Record breaking bald eagles

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 Photo courtesy of Ohio Division of Natural Resources

The recent Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey recorded 649 birds this year. This is the highest number ever noted in Ohio during the annual count. Bald eagles live near larger bodies of water. Counties along Lake Erie had the largest number of sightings.

Our nation’s symbol is making its way back into the buckeye state.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) conducted its annual survey and found a record number of bald eagles. Observers counted 649 birds during the Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey, conducted Jan. 2-15. The previous record count for bald eagles during this survey was 554 in 2006.

Of the 649 birds, 426 were mature and 223 were immature. Last winter, the study found just 480 bald eagles, including 359 mature and 212 immature birds. Immature eagles are those without completely white heads. They are usually under 5 years old.

In Ohio, bald eagles are most commonly found in the marsh regions of western Lake Erie. This year, the birds were observed in 70 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Sandusky, Ottawa, Erie, Trumbull and Wyandot counties, along with the western Lake Erie shore, continued to report the largest number of eagle sightings. Sandusky County had the greatest number of sightings with 76 birds. Just three birds were spotted in Franklin County and four in Pickaway County.

"Ohio’s bald eagle population continues to expand throughout the state," said Mark Shieldcastle, a biologist with the ODNR Division of Wildlife. "Last fall’s mild temperatures made eagle viewing excellent this year."

According to ODNR, bald eagles can be found in small concentrations throughout the United States but they mostly stay near sizeable bodies of water. They need ample fish and build their nests within two miles of a body of water.

"Open water has held Ohio birds, and good weather allowed counters to get out and locate them," said Shieldcastle.

Bald eagles prefer secluded nests and can become territorial. They feed during daylight hours. The eagles were considered to be an endangered species. Due to efforts by the public and biologists, the population is spreading its wings. They have been taken off the endangered species list but their federal status is still "threatened."

State wildlife officials and volunteers conduct the mid-winter survey each January as part of a national effort coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The survey aims to document trends in populations of eagles in the lower 48 states, including the bald eagle and the golden eagle. Two immature golden eagles were spotted in Ohio this year, though they are rarely seen here. According to ODNR, the number of sightings of the golden eagle could increase as their population grows in the eastern Arctic, and as a successful reintroduction effort in Georgia and Tennessee expands.

The bald eagle management program for Ohio is funded by contributions to the state income tax check-off program for Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species and by the sale of Ohio conservation license plates. Eagle restoration efforts are also supported by donations on wildohio.com.

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