Eagle eyes


DIAMOND, Ohio – Sixty-five feet in the air, Jeff Janosik looks across the treetops.
The old beech tree he’s perched in – he figures it’s 80 to 100 years old – is taller than most in the woodland here, not far from Lake Milton.
He calls it a super canopy, and it’s perfect for bald eagles.
There’s a nest directly in front of him, suspended between two branches and resting on a third. He eyes it to be 5 feet across – about average – and standing on the far side, peering at this invader, are two eaglets.
His mission begins.
* * *
Two adult eagles circle overhead, screeching warnings to their babies back in the nest. But Janosik isn’t here to harm them.
He’s here to check them, to be sure they’re alive and thriving.
Volunteers tracked this nest from their homes and roadways nearby for weeks. They watched as the nest appeared in the top of this tree and trained their binoculars on it, hoping to catch a glimpse of the eaglets.
Today, Janosik and others from the Ohio Division of Wildlife will band and measure the young birds. Each eaglet’s survival is critical in helping the division bring eagles back to Ohio.
* * *
The two eaglets are 7 weeks old but not brave enough to fly away when Janosik uses a hook to pull them toward his side of the nest.
They’re aggressive at first, unsure of this intruder who quickly wraps their legs and talons with veterinary tape.
Their feet are always going, he says. They’ve got all the tools of destruction, so you’ve got to be careful.
Once the young birds’ legs are wrapped, a crew on the ground engineers a series of ropes to lower the eaglets from the nest.
One at a time, they come down in yellow nylon bags.
The team sprawls tools and clipboards on a blue tarp on the forest floor, their makeshift field office ready and waiting.
* * *
This has been a record-setting year in Ohio, Janosik says.
In 1979, there were only four bald eagle pairs nesting in the state, due in part to pesticides and loss of habitat in the state.
This spring, Janosik and his team found or checked 125 nests and counted 85 healthy eaglets.
Not every nest gets counted, not every eaglet is numbered, not every bird is discovered. Yet each is playing an important role in bringing the national symbol back to Ohio.
The state division of wildlife is managing the birds closely through habitat restoration, extensive monitoring and ensuring young eagles get a healthy start.
Today, these eaglets will get metal leg bands to help the division track them throughout their lifetime.
* * *
It takes three department employees to record measurements and give the birds a health check. Though the birds are only 7 weeks old, they’re quite a handful, even for these grown men.
One wildlife officer cradles the bird while two others use calipers to gauge bill depth and length. They stretch and measure the wing, the claw, the foot pad.
The measurements put both birds in the normal ranges for a female. At this point, there’s really no other way to tell if we’re gaining more males or females in Ohio.
The second bird is more aggressive, going for their fingers as they hold her, handle her legs and wings, look more closely at her beak and eyes and ears.
A silver band is clamped around the eaglet’s right leg. Her U.S. Fish and Wildlife number, a permanent assignment, is 62922846. Around her left leg goes a red metal band, state number P24.
The healthy chicks’ legs are rewrapped and they’re prepared for the elevator ride skyward.
* * *
While he’s hanging out in the treetops, Janosik continues his work.
He measures the nest; this one is closer to 6 feet wide and 4 feet deep. He checked out the nest’s structure, its positioning between branches.
He estimates it weighs nearly 400 pounds, bigger than a bathtub, and surely heavier. He could have sat in it.
He looks for eggs that didn’t hatch, for signs of other life. Sometimes he’ll find other bird nests around the perimeter of an eagle’s nest. Often, like today, he’ll find carp scales or turtle shells or signs of less-than-fancy feasts.
They’re all signs this nest has been good to the eaglets, that they’re likely to flourish in adulthood.
Just before noon, Janosik is back on the ground.
He slaps high-fives with his crew. This banding mission has been a success.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)


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