OAK HARBOR Ohio's bald eagle nesting season is underway with at least three eagle pairs already incubating eggs, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
An eagle pair in Huron County began sitting on eggs Jan. 29. Other pairs in Ottawa and Ashtabula counties began incubation in recent days. Wildlife biologists anticipate the Huron County eggs will hatch sometime on or about March 5. During the recently completed mid-winter survey of bald eagles, biologists observed birds in 53 of the state's 88 counties, with most noted along the western shore of Lake Erie. However, eagles are continuing to expand their range around the state, establishing nesting territories in central and southern Ohio.
"Bald eagles continue to do well in Ohio," said Steven A. Gray, chief of the Division of Wildlife. "We are looking forward to another productive nesting season."
Ohio's bald eagle population grew from only four nesting pairs along the southwestern Lake Erie shore 27 years ago, to a record 150 eagle nests in 2006. Those nests produced 206 young.
The Division of Wildlife staff and a dedicated group of trained volunteers monitor existing nests during the season and continue to look for nests that may as yet be undiscovered.
Active nests are located in the following 41 Ohio counties: Ashtabula (4.), Brown (1), Coshocton (3); Crawford (2); Cuyahoga (1), Defiance (2); Delaware (3); Erie (12); Geauga (3); Guernsey (1); Hancock (2); Hardin (1); Harrison (1); Henry (1); Highland (1), Holmes (1); Huron (3); Knox (4); Lake (1); Licking (1), Lorain (2); Lucas (5); Mahoning (3); Marion (2); Mercer (2); Morgan (1); Muskingum (2); Noble (1); Ottawa (21); Pickaway (1), Portage (3); Putnam (1); Richland (2); Ross (3); Sandusky (19); Seneca (6); Trumbull (8); Tuscarawas (1); Wayne (2); Wood (4) and Wyandot (7).
Anyone who observes eagles building a new nest should contact the county wildlife officer or a wildlife district office. Individuals are reminded that state and federal laws protect bald eagles and their nest sites. Any type of disturbance around a nest could cause the birds to abandon the site or discourage them from using the nest in the future.
Bald eagles range over great distances until mature enough to breed at 3 to 4 years of age. They usually return to nest within 100 miles of where they were raised. Although eagles generally keep the same mate, if one of the pair should die the other will find another mate. An eagle's life span in the wild is about 15 to 20 years.
Bald eagles build huge nests in the tops of tall trees near water, and often re-use the nest year after year. Nests may reach 10 feet in diameter and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Eagles lay two to three eggs once a year. The eggs hatch in about 35 days.
The young will fly within three months, but remain under the care of the adults for another seven to 10 weeks. Immature eagles are mottled brown in color and do not acquire their signature white head and tail feathers until age 5 or 6.
The Division of Wildlife initiated the state's bald eagle restoration program in 1979. The program is partially funded by donations to the state income tax check-off for Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species. Contributions to the fund can be made by checking the appropriate line on the 1040 or the1040 EZ 2006 state income tax forms. Donations can also be made via the Internet at ohiodnr.com/wildlife. Click on the red "donate" button on the left side of the page.
The program is also funded by the sale of Ohio conservation license plates, including the bald eagle and cardinal plates. The license plates can be purchased through a deputy registrar license outlet, on the Internet at OPLATES.com, or by calling the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles at 1-888-PLATES3.