DARKE COUNTY — Bald eagle populations are on the rebound in Ohio and across the country, according to Robb Clifford, a naturalist at Darke County Parks.
“This has been a pretty good year for bald eagles in the county as a whole,” Clifford said. “We’ve been keeping a running tally, and we believe we’re up to about 20 sightings so far.”
Clifford stressed that this may not mean there are actually 20 or more separate birds nesting in Darke County.
“That may just be the same bird that’s making the rounds and being seen a lot,” Clifford said. “But the bald eagle population has been going up steadily, in general, over the course of the last five or ten years.”
Numbers of bald eagles began to decline in the 1970s, when it was learned that DDT and other chemical pesticides were causing the eggshells of predatory birds like the eagle to soften, which in turn led to the eggs cracking and being destroyed when mature birds would sit on them in order to warm them. Since then, Clifford said, environmental protections have been put into place that have helped to improve the bald eagle’s plight immensely: while only four breeding pairs of eagles were known to exist in Ohio in the late 70s, over 350 birds were catalogued 25 years later, in 2004.
Pair bonding activity for eagles begins in the fall. Courtship behavior and nest building can occur anytime between October and early December. The female lays one to three eggs during the period of mid-February to late March; both the female and her mate then spend time in the nest, incubating and sharing feeding responsibilities. Eggs usually incubate for about 35 days, hatching sometime in April. The young are initially helpless and dependent on their parents, and usually won’t leave the nest until after 10 to 13 weeks. A female generally produces one brood each year.
Bald eagles are found in small concentrations throughout the United States, usually near large bodies of water, as they primarily hunt fish. In Ohio, eagles are often found in the marsh region of western Lake Erie. An ideal site is one where water with ample food is located within two miles of the nest.
Eagles prefer a secluded nest, according to Clifford, which is why anyone who discovers a nest should refrain from returning to the area.
“They like to have a quiet nest site, so if a nest is found, that’s an area you should avoid visiting,” Clifford said.
Clifford also advised drivers to be cautious when encountering eagles and other large birds feeding on the road, as they often require much more room to take off than smaller birds. The adult bald eagle can have a wingspan of up to six feet.
“Even for those of us who tend to see them more regularly, their size can sometimes be intimidating,” Clifford said. “They’re so much bigger than the birds we usually see.”
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