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Eagle population soars across Ohio

Posted at 5:58 PM, Apr 05, 2022

AVON LAKE, Ohio — A pair of nesting bald eagles in Avon Lake, and their many fans, are anticipating their three eggs to begin hatching any day now. The couple, dubbed “Stars” and “Stripes” are part of Ohio’s conservation success story.

According to the most recent survey from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), there are about 806 bald eagle nests statewide. The count is up 14% from 707 nests documented in 2020. When the federal government declared the species endangered in the late 1970s, there were only four nesting pairs in Ohio.

“It’s pretty amazing to go from four nests to over 800. That really says something for the population here in our state,” said Laurie Brown, a wildlife research technician with ODNR’s Division of Wildlife.

She explained that protected birds thrive in areas with clean water and fish. Many experts blame the widespread use of DDT, before the pesticide ban in 1972, as a culprit for the decline of the species. The toxic chemical, ingested by bald eagles when they ate contaminated fish, would weaken the birds’ eggshells and make them more susceptible to breaking under the weight of a nesting adult.

“The removal of that pesticide certainly did help,” said Brown.

The rebounding population is noticeable, particularly in Northeast Ohio along Lake Erie.

“Any time in the winter you go to Lake Erie, you will see a bald eagle within a few minutes. I mean, it’s almost guaranteed,” said Tim Jasinski, the wildlife rehabilitation coordinator at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center.

He explained the organization has been fielding more calls from the public, reporting injured eagles or asking questions after sightings. The nature center features Icharus, a resident bald eagle who was rendered flightless after an illness. He acts as an educational ambassador for guests.

Icharus, a flightless bald eagle, at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center.

“Bald eagles are always the star. They’re such big birds, they’re the national bird, so they’re very popular for kids and adults alike,” Jasinski said.

The bald eagles in Avon Lake have also become a popular attraction and teaching tool. Their nest, situated high atop a tree behind Redwood Elementary School, is surrounded by chain link fencing with signs detailing the nest’s seven-year history.

“It’s a sign of spring,” said Mary McKinley, whose backyard connects to the forested area where the nest is located.

McKinley explained crowds gather outside of school hours nearly every day during nesting season.

“When the weather is nice, the whole parking lot is full,” she said. “And they’ve become a community in themselves.”

The Avon Lake birders are in good company with viewers of a 24/7 live streaming webcam. The eagles’ YouTube page has nearly three million views.

“They’re quite loved by a lot of people,” McKinley said.

Conservationists hope the popularity and population growth will catch on with other endangered species.

“We always love conservation success stories because it just shows how important conservation is,” Jasinski said.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, at one point there were only 417 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the U.S. By 2019, that number grew to more than 71,400.