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Ohio's bald eagle population continues to rise

bald eagle seen from behind sits on a tree branch against a blue sky with green grass beneath
Roger Starnes Sr
A bald eagle photographed in Spring Valley, Ohio in 2020.

Ohio's bald eagle population is continuing to grow. The most recent nest count completed this year shows a 10.5% increase from 2022.

"That gave us an estimate of 910 nests within the state for 2023," says Laura Kearns, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. "That's good. That's a healthy increase. Last year, we had only an increase of 2%."

Kearns says the smaller percentage in 2022 may be related to last year's avian flu outbreak.

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"That definitely caused some eagle mortality across the state," she adds. "But it seems like there's been recovery from that outbreak and 10.5% is on par with some of the percent increases we've seen in the years previous to 2022."

As of the last census in 2020, bald eagles were confirmed in all but three of Ohio's 88 counties. Kearns says the plan is to conduct a census every five years. In the meantime, ODNR is completing an annual survey. None of the three remaining counties are in the survey areas, but ODNR has been getting spotting reports.

"We do have verifiable reports in Jackson County and Lawrence County — those were two that didn't have nests in 2020," Kearns notes. "And then there is a report — it's technically just outside of Meigs County on (an island in) the Ohio River, so technically it's in West Virginia, but it's very close."

In 2020 the state logged more than 700 bald eagle nests. That was a 151% increase from the previous nest census in 2012, when 281 nests were recorded. Just four nesting pairs were recorded in 1979.

How you can help bald eagles

Kearns says the best way to help Ohio's bald eagle population thrive is to leave them alone, especially during nesting season.

"A lot of people get really excited about observing eagle nests — and they're easy to see for a good part of the season before the leaves come out — but even though we think that they are more tolerant to disturbance than we originally thought, it's still good to stay about 100 yards away from a nest if you are aware of one to give them the space and privacy that they need to incubate the nest properly and then raise their young effectively."

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She also urges hunters and fishers to avoid using lures, bait or bullets that may still contain lead. Lead poisoning remains a threat to the bald eagle population. Eagles feed on animal carcasses, so they could become sick if they ingest, for example, an animal that's been shot but not recovered. Lead-tainted waters are a threat, too.

Finally, she points out, since eagles are scavengers, they can sometimes be found feasting on dead animals in the roadway, so slow down and observe speed limits.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.