OAK HARBOR, Ohio – A return of Ohio’s normally harsh winter weather, absent in recent years, is pushing the state’s bald eagle population southward, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
An aerial survey of Ohio’s eagles completed recently shows more adult eagles are wintering in the southern reaches of the state, and many of the state’s immature eagles have left the state entirely for warmer climates.
Immature eagles are juvenile birds that have not reached reproductive maturity or gained the distinctive white head, usually less than 4 years old.
Only 57 bald eagles were observed in the survey compared to 70 during last year’s aerial count. About 30 percent of the birds were found in southern counties of the state.
The annual midwinter Bald Eagle Survey is a standardized aerial count conducted by state wildlife officials each January as part of a nationwide tally to determine the wintering bald and golden eagle populations in North America.
Additional observations recorded from the ground by field personnel and a team of volunteers will complement the aerial survey for a more thorough statewide count. These results will be available next week.
This year’s aerial observations of 57 eagles included 39 adults of which 12 were found in the southern portion of the state.
“Our annual winter eagle surveys traditionally show almost all of the adult eagles nesting in the northern half of the state, including the Lake Erie marsh region, north central Ohio, and northeastern Ohio,” said ODNR Division of Wildlife biologist Mark Shieldcastle.
“This year, steady frigid temperatures beginning in December created early ice cover on marshes, the open waters of western Lake Erie, and inland lakes, where eagles feed on fish. They are moving south for open water.”
Only 18 immature bald eagles were found in the state during the survey, compared to 36 during last January’s count.
Many of Ohio’s immature eagles will move southward during the winter months, but the low number found across the state shows many most likely have left the state entirely, he said. Adults and immature eagles are expected to return to their home areas once a good thaw occurs.
Last year, a record 63 bald eagle pairs nested in the state and raised a record 88 eaglets.