Eagle population soars

Jason Hawk | Civitas Media Seneca is a permanent resident at the Carlisle Reservation on Diagonal Road. His fine-feathered family is experiencing a resurgence nationwide.

The bald eagle is making a comeback.

Just a few years after it was removed from the endangered species list, the iconic bird of prey is again thriving. As of 2014, there are 200 bald eagle nests in Ohio, up from 189 the prior year, said Mary Ewers, senior naturalist at the Carlisle Reservation Metro Park.

Frequent sightings by publisher Tom Hutson near the Wellington reservoir and a more recent one by reporter Valerie Urbanik at the Oberlin reservoir prompted us just before Independence Day to ask about the national bird’s outlook in Lorain County.

Ewers counts five active nesting sites here.

In addition to the reservoirs are an established nest at the Sandy Ridge Reservation in North Ridgeville, a brand new one at Redwood Elementary in Avon Lake, and another on private property near Baumhart Road and Rt. 2 just west of Amherst.

Bald eagles primarily eat fish, so the habitat between Lake Erie, the Vermilion River, and the Black River is ideal.

Ewers said there are an estimated 10 to 15 living in the county and that number could very well continue to rise.

“There’s plenty of food for everybody in Lake Erie. It’s just a matter of whether they find appropriate nest sites,” she said. “It would be great to see that increase because everybody likes to see the bald eagle flying over their houses.”

The bald eagle, weighing in at around 14 pounds, is the undisputed king of the skies, though red-tailed hawks and great horned owls can also be found in Lorain County.

Don’t expect an overnight population boom, though.

Eagles are solitary animals, mating for life and fiercely territorial. Unlike other birds, they don’t lay several clutches of eggs per year — just two or three eaglets.

Hatchlings spend a couple of months (a long time by birds’ reckoning) with their parents before leaving to stake out their own nests. Sometimes that means roaming far from home.

There were once nearly 500,000 bald eagles in the U.S., yet by the 1950s hunting and deforestation all but erased the raptor from the face of the earth. In their darkest hour, there were only 412 nesting pairs in the 48 contiguous states.

Strict hunting laws and a ban on the use of DDT helped the species recover. By 2006, the government downgraded its endangered status, though the bald eagle is still protected by any number of federal acts.

For instance, don’t try collecting bald eagle feathers from any of the sites we’ve mentioned. Only American Indians are allowed to possess those and only with explicit permission; even Metro Parks naturalists have to carefully collect the feathers from their birds and turn them over to a federal repository.

Dead eagles are also handed over to the government. Twice in the past two years, residents have found and taken such remains to county parks workers, Ewers said.

While sad for the loss of life, she said those incidents are actually a positive sign: “We went for years and years without a case like that,” the naturalist said. “Then we got two. That shows the population is increasing.”

How many eagles our area can sustain and where exactly they’ll settle in is anybody’s guess, said Ewers.

“In the meantime we have awesome wildlife watching opportunities that we haven’t had while that population was recovering. So either way, it’s a win,” she said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.