Winter months are the best for Ohioans to enjoy bald eagle viewing opportunities.
The noble birds increase their nesting activity during the winter season, according to a news release from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
That makes the next few weeks “an excellent opportunity to watch these majestic raptors hunt, improve nests and establish territory.”
Eagles easier to see in snow and ice
January is usually when Ohio’s bald eagles begin courtship and pair bonding. That activity, combined with the lack of foliage, makes sightings easier.
The state’s bald eagles population has increased in recent years. There were an estimated 824 nesting pairs statewide in 2022.
“Look for eagles near their preferred aquatic habitats such as rivers, wetlands and frozen lakes, or occasionally sitting in open fields,” scientists advise.
An eagle’s large size, dark-colored plumage, and impressive wingspan are easy to spot against snow and ice.
“The recent success of Ohio’s bald eagles is owed in a big way to improvements in the state’s water quality and habitat availability,” said Kendra Wecker, chief of the division of wildlife. “Expanding wildlife areas and Governor DeWine’s H2Ohio program to restore wetlands provides eagles with additional space to nest and raise their young. The bald eagle’s recovery is an example of how wildlife and habitats benefit when the state, conservation partners and individuals work together.”
Binoculars helpful in eagle sightings
Winter provides viewing opportunities for both adult and immature bald eagles.
The white head and tail of the adult bird contrasts sharply with its dark body, a distinctive feature used to identify the species. An immature bird is more difficult to identify and has a mottled brown and white plumage for four or five years before attaining the recognizable field marks of an adult.
A good pair of binoculars or even a spotting scope is recommended to see birds at long distances.
Bald eagles in Ohio typically lay eggs and incubate in February and March, nesting in large trees such as sycamores, oaks and cottonwoods, according to the news release.
Meanwhile, frozen lakes and rivers force the birds to expand their hunting grounds in search of fish and carrion, their foods of choice.
Lake Erie and other large bodies of water host the highest number of eagles because of easy access to food resources.
Bald eagles were once endangered
Bald eagle nest sites can be reported at wildohio.gov or on the “HuntFish OH” mobile app. By reporting locations when you find a nest, you help Division of Wildlife biologists estimate eagle population dynamics and monitor trends, ensuring this and other species continue to do well in the Buckeye State.
The bald eagle was once an endangered species, with only four nesting pairs in Ohio in 1979, according to the news release. Thanks to partnerships between the Division of Wildlife, Ohio zoos, wildlife rehabilitation facilities, concerned landowners and conservationists its population increased.
The bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007, and from Ohio’s list in 2012.
Bald eagles are protected under both state law and the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, making it illegal to disturb bald eagles.
When viewing these majestic birds, remember to respect the bird’s space and stay at least 100 yards away. Disturbing bald eagles at the nest site could lead the pair to abandon the eggs.
This article originally appeared on Fremont News-Messenger: Bald eagles are easier to see in Ohio in the winter months