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Ohio's Bald Eagle Population Is Soaring

A bald eagle spotted in Magee Marsh. Much of this state wildlife area sits in Ottawa County which had the highest number of bald eagle nests in the latest census. [Francesco Veronesi / Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0]
A bald eagle spotted in Magee Marsh. Much of this state wildlife area sits in Ottawa County which had the highest number of bald eagle nests in the latest census.

Ohio's bald eagle population is making a strong comeback, according to the 2020 nest census from the Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.

The agency reports 707 confirmed bald eagle nests were spotted in Ohio during February and March. That's a 151% increase from the last nest census in 2012, when 281 nests were recorded. Just four nesting pairs were recorded in 1979.

In a release from ODNR, Gov. Mike DeWine praises Ohioans and the department for "the hard work and dedication put forth for Ohio's wildlife."

The census relies on "citizen scientists" volunteering to go out and count nests. ODNR says it collected approximately 2,500 reports from the public. The reports were then verified by wildlife officers and biologists.

Nests were confirmed in 85 of Ohio's 88 counties, with those along Lake Erie showing the highest numbers. That's because the lake provides plenty of food and nesting habitat. Ottawa County, 15 miles southeast of Toledo on Lake Erie, had the most sightings at 90.

ODNR divides Ohio into five regions with Southwest Ohio encompassing the southwestern and western parts of the state. Brian Plasters, ODNR communications manager, says this region had the greatest increase in sightings.

"It went from nine nests in 2012 to 74 nests in 2020," he says. "Obviously the Ohio River is right there, which (eagles) use that a lot, but there's also some smaller rivers such as the Great Miami River and the Little Miami River and some great reservoirs, too, such as Caesar Creek and East Fork Lake, so there's lots of waterways and places for them to spread out. Lots of food and lots of habitat, so Southwest Ohio is definitely on the rise."

Here's a breakdown of the nest count in Southwest Ohio (as defined by ODNR). The first number indicates how many nests were counted in the current census followed by the number in 2012.

  • Adams: 1 (0)
  • Brown: 4 (1)
  • Butler: 8 (0)
  • Clermont: 4 (0)
  • Clinton: 2 (0)
  • Greene: 4 (0)
  • Hamilton: 3 (1)
  • Highland: 4 (1)
  • Miami: 5 (0)
  • Montgomery: 3 (1)
  • Preble: 3 (0)
  • Warren: 4 (2)

ODNR Region 5 (Southwest Ohio) also includes Auglaize: 4 (0); Clark: 5 (0); Darke: 1 (0); Mercer: 16 (3); Shelby: 3 (0).

Plasters says ODNR's mapping shows the eagle population is spreading from the north to the south, especially from Lake Erie and Ottawa County.

"It wouldn't take long for an eagle to get from Lake Erie to the Ohio River ... if you think about how fast an eagle can fly. They're definitely finding their way into new places and Southwest Ohio is in that zone."

The three counties without confirmed eagles nests - Lawrence, Jackson and Meigs counties - are along the southern border of the state, so eagles may still be spreading south and just haven't reached those locations yet.

"There's a lot of wild places in those counties and maybe we just didn't catch those," Plasters points out. "It is possible that they're there, we just didn't find them at this time."

Bald eagles were removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list in 2007 and from Ohio's list in 2012. They are, however, still protected under several federal laws.

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