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Nest Census: Ohio Conducting Statewide Count Of Bald Eagles

Bald eagles were once almost wiped out of Ohio. Now, the state has more than 220 nesting pairs.
Jim Kaftan
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Bald eagles were once almost wiped out of Ohio. Now, the state has more than 220 nesting pairs.

On a recent weekday morning, Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist Laura Kearns used her binoculars to spot a bald eagles’ nest high in the tree branches on Columbus’ Northwest Side.

The nest was several hundred yards away from where Kearns stood at the River Bluff Area of Highbanks Metro Park.

“They’re still finishing up building nests or repairing nests and pretty soon they’re going to start laying their eggs and incubating, so there’s a lot of activity so we can confirm that nests are actually active,” Kearns says.

The number of bald eagles is growing in Ohio, and for the first time in almost a decade, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is conducting its own census to count every eagle’s nest.

"It will help us to track or check if the survey estimate that we’re doing is providing us an accurate number,” she said.

Wildlife biologists estimate that in 2019 Ohio had 350 mating pairs of bald eagles. That's a huge improvement from the late 1970s, when only four pairs of bald eagles nested in the state.

The bird came off the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007 and was removed from Ohio’s list in 2012. Kearns says this is the first census count of bald eagle’s nests since then.

Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist Laura Kearns found an eagles' nest at River Bluff Area of Highbanks Metro Park.
Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU
Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist Laura Kearns found an eagles' nest at River Bluff Area of Highbanks Metro Park.

“Generally, it’s just that the population has recovered from the negative effects of DDT, which was a pesticide that effected them negatively,” Kearns says.

Kearns says some of the bald eagles may have relocated from other states, but most of them she attributes to mating eagles. Late winter is the best time to count the nests because you can see them through the bare tree branches.

Ohio's bald eagles usually lay eggs and incubate in February and March, prefering large trees such as sycamores, oaks and cottonwoods near large bodies of water.

Kearns says more eagles are choosing to locate near urban areas.

“As the population has expanded, they’ve started to move into more urbanized areas and are showing more comfort being around human activity,” she says.

Kearns explains that is an encouraging sign that shows the population is doing well.

Ohio residents can report any sightings of a bald eagle nest to ODNR, but they should stay at at least 100 yards away to avoid disrupting the birds, Kearns says.

Wildlife biologists expect to finish a final count of the eagle’s nests in Ohio by the end of April.