For the first time in eight years, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife is attempting to find every bald eagle nest in the state, and Rocky Fork State Park Natural Resources Officer Adam Somerville said nests can be viewed in and near Highland County.
“We do have a nest here for sure that we know of,” Somerville said speaking of Rocky Fork. “We don’t like to give the location, because what happened with the last one is that boaters were getting too close trying to look at it, so the eagles moved their nest to the southeast side of the lake.”
However, Somerville said the new nest “is about the size of a Volkswagen,” and can be viewed with binoculars from the park campground from the KAMP Dovetail area.
He said there is also a nest along Paint Creek between the Highland/Ross County line and the village of Bainbridge. He said that nest can’t be viewed from the road, but can be viewed by those kayaking or canoeing on the creek.
“Those are two we know of for sure, and I would bet money there are some along Rattlesnake Creek and one north of the Paint Creek reservoir,” Somerville said. “Bald eagles — I don’t want to say it’s common to see them — but you can see them in this area.”
In fact, he said, he came so close to hitting one with his vehicle that it almost flew in his window. He said that happened along Paint Creek across from Paint Valley High School when two adults and four juveniles were eating on a deer carcass.
Wildlife officers try to protect the nests, Somerville said, and if they see someone getting to close to one, officers will ask them to stay back.
Once when the lake was frozen over, he said, there were three to four bald eagles at Rocky Fork Lake’s North Beach area picking coots — small black ducks — off on the ice. He said lots of people captured that episode.
“It got to the point that we almost had to have an officer stay out there to say, ‘Hey, get your pictures, but stay away from the eagles,’” Somerville said. “They were picking the coots off right and left and right. They ate really good that day. There were little black feathers all over the place.”
The ODNR is asking those who see eagles to report their sightings.
“The bald eagle’s remarkable comeback speaks volumes about Ohio’s conservation efforts,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in an ODNR news release. “With its population on the rise, the bald eagle will continue to serve as a powerful symbol for our state and our country for years to come.”
Citizen scientists can submit sightings at wildohio.gov/reportwildlife from Saturday, Feb. 1, to Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Watch for updates of verified nests throughout the coming months at wildohio.gov.
“From the Ohio River to Lake Erie, our state has become an ideal home for the bald eagle,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz said in the release. “This is a great opportunity to get outdoors and see this soaring raptor, all while providing a valuable conservation service to our state.”
The bald eagle was once an endangered species, with only four nesting pairs in Ohio in 1979. However, thanks to partnerships between the Division of Wildlife, Ohio zoos, wildlife rehabilitation facilities, and concerned landowners, its population increased. The bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007 and from Ohio’s list in 2012.
“Wildlife biologists estimate that Ohio hosted more than 350 nesting pairs of bald eagles in 2019,” said Division of Wildlife Chief Kendra Wecker. “Many of those nests are situated along Ohio’s portion of Lake Erie, and along with Ohio’s rivers and reservoirs.”
Ohio Division of Wildlife biologists typically estimate the number of eagle nests by flying select areas of the state and verifying sightings. However, identifying the locations of all the nests in the state hasn’t been attempted since bald eagles were delisted in 2012. Wildlife staff, including wildlife officers, will verify nest locations. This will help update the Division of Wildlife’s historical databases and confirm the results of estimated counts.
Bald eagles in Ohio typically lay eggs and incubate in February and March. Young eagles leave the nest about three months later, usually in June. The birds nest in large trees such as sycamores, oaks and cottonwoods near large bodies of water. Fish and carrion are their preferred foods.
Bald eagles are protected under both state law and the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. It is illegal to disturb bald eagles. When viewing them, remember to respect the bird’s space and stay at least 100 yards away from the bird or nest. Disturbing bald eagles at the nest site could lead the pair to abandon the eggs, the news release said.
As with many of Ohio’s native wildlife species, bald eagles require specific habitat conditions to thrive. Bald eagle habitat protection and research is funded by the sale of bald eagle conservation license plates, income tax check-off donations to the Endangered Species and Wildlife Diversity Fund and sales of the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. Learn how to support Ohio’s wildlife like the bald eagle at wildohio.gov/support.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at at 937-402-2522.