Ohio’s bald eagle population grows

First Posted: 4/24/2015

FORT JENNINGS — Keith Bigelow and his son have made it a routine every morning to look out the window overlooking their back yard.

While wildlife of all sorts could be expected, the Bigelow yard is home to something special.

There, they see two bald eagles perched in a nearby tree, protecting their eggs.

“I work second shift, so I get up in the morning and my boy gets up to go to school, we’ll peek out and try to find them and see where they’re at,” said Bigelow, of Fort Jennings. “It’s like a daily thing for us anymore to look for them.”

Bigelow moved into his home in Putnam County in 2011 and began noticing the birds in 2013 when the Auglaize River levels were low.

Allen County Wildlife Officer Craig Barr began his career in 2006, a time when there were no eagles in the county “that anybody was aware of,” he said. “It wasn’t uncommon to see them, but it wasn’t an everyday occurrence, either.”

The population of bald eagles have “been doing so well,” the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division doesn’t need to track the nests like they used to, said John Windau, wildlife communication specialist with the ODNR.

The birds are neither tracked by the state or federally, Windau said, though the birds are still protected by law. “They’re no longer a threatened species or endangered species,” he said. The population of bald eagles has been on a steady rise since 2008 to 2009.

Eagles nest along rivers and waterways, Barr said. Rivers serve as prime real estate for bald eagles, as a large part of their diet includes fish, Windau said.

During the winter months, much of the Auglaize River had frozen over, but in the parts that were still flowing freely, Bigelow said he would see the eagles wait on the frozen parts of the river and fish when the timing was right.

In the past though, this sight was rare. In 1970, Barr said there were four pairs of bald eagles in the state.

One attribution to the decline of bald eagle populations is the use of the pesticide DDT. The chemical would soften the enamel of the eggs, killing the bird before it had hatched, Windau said. The bird is a success story, he said.

“Where they were because of human interaction and what we’ve done to be able to allow that population, help that population come back and stabilize, that’s the real success story is,” Windau said.

“The birds themselves are a symbol of our freedom,” Bigelow said. “I feel pretty lucky to just look out back and see them on a daily basis.”

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