It’s hard to believe only four nesting pairs of bald eagles called Ohio home in 1979. The most recent nest census confirmed there are 707 bald eagle nests within the state — a 151% increase from 2012.
Ironically, my dad has been telling me for at least three weeks that he believes a bald eagle has built a nest on his property. If he’s right (he usually is), this spring is the first we’ve noticed.
My dad and my daughter, Vayda, first thought it was a possibility when they heard a distinct throaty chatter coming from the wood bordering my parents’ side yard. We’ve since observed a very large bird flying overhead. However, we haven’t gotten a good enough look to confirm our new neighbor’s identity.
Where to look
It’s hard to say whether or not dad and Vayda are onto something without a better look or proof of a nesting site, but the conditions at my parent’s property are in line with those of the bird’s preferred habitat.
Dad built his house right on the edge of a flood zone — and after years of anecdotal evidence, I’ve confirmed this via FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center. The backyard is considered a flood zone because when it rains a lot, the creek, running through it, overflows. However, his vision has held up for 20 years because he also built his house on a hill, out of reach of the creek’s higher water level after a storm.
Other than the site of the house and the patches of grass that make up the side and front yards, the property is pretty wet year-round. The all-the-way front of the property, boarding the road, has five or six natural springs. The rear of the property — the woods behind the side yard to the south — are usually saturated, as they are lower in elevation and protected by the canopy of the trees.
Surrounding the hill dad built his house on, it’s pretty swampy and inviting to a variety of aquatic life, birds and mammals. Additionally, West Branch State Park, Berlin Lake and Lake Milton are all within 15 miles of my parents’ property, with West Branch Reservoir being the closest only 4 miles away. Between the on-site amenities and the larger bodies of water nearby, it could work for a bald eagle family.
Bald eagles can be found in marshes, swamps and river systems throughout Ohio. They tend to nest in somewhat secluded sites near sizable bodies of water, choosing these locations to be close to food sources and to maintain their space from other bald eagles, particularly when a nest is being established and young are being raised.
In Ohio, bald eagle nesting sites are most prevalent in the marsh region of western Lake Erie. The counties with the most bald eagle nests are Ottawa (90), Sandusky (50), Erie (32), Trumbull (26), Seneca (24), Wyandot (19), Lucas (18), Licking (17), Ashtabula (16), Knox (16), Mercer (16) and Wood (16).
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources recommends the following locations for the best viewing opportunities if you’re not lucky enough to have bald eagles for neighbors:
- Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Lucas and Ottawa counties
- Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area, Wayne County
- Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area, Trumbull County
- Pickerel Creek Wildlife Area, Sandusky County
- Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Lucas and Ottawa counties
- Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Wyandot and Marion counties
- Near major rivers such as the Muskingum, Hocking, Scioto and Great Miami in southern Ohio.
From personal experience, I know that West Branch State Park (Portage County) is another great location to view bald eagles.
If you don’t live near one of these recommended sites, marshes and swamps on the outskirts of larger bodies of water may be a good place to start looking.
However, if you’re going to look for them or visit known nesting locations, take care not to disturb them or interfere. Although they are no longer listed as state or federally endangered or threatened, they are still protected by the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and state law. When viewing bald eagles, remember to respect their space and stay at least 100 yards away from the bird or nest.
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