Bald Eagle

Last week I was out looking for waterfowl on two different trips around central Ohio.  On both of those days, I spotted something more exciting than the expected ducks- two different pairs of amazing raptors that are the national bird of the United States.

The first pair I saw flying overhead at Hoover Reservoir, just north of Columbus.  I didn’t know what I photographed at first, it happened so fast.  They flew out of some nearby trees, and they were quite a bit larger than the typical hawk.  Needless to say, I was excited to see them!

Bald Eagles are very impressive birds.  Averaging about a yard long, their wingspan is between 6 and 7 feet- that’s a very large eagle.  The first time you see one, their size really strikes you.

The classic brown and white color pattern is an adult plumage.  It can take a young bird up to 5 years to achieve this coloration.  Young birds are mostly brown.  These birds can live to be as old as 30 years of age or so.

Bald Eagles are plentiful in Canada and Alaska.  Their numbers declined alarmingly in the continental United States by the mid-20th century due to a variety of factors, including habitat loss, hunting, power-line electrocution, and pesticides which made their eggshells very fragile.  After DDT was banned, their population rebounded to the point where they were taken off of the Endangered Species List in 1995.  Growing numbers of nesting pairs inhabit Ohio for example, where 116 nests have been observed this year.

Eagles live near water because they primarily eat fish; they don’t always fish for them, however.  They’ve been known to harass other birds who’ve caught fish, taking their meals from them.  This led Benjamin Franklin in 1784 to object to making the Bald Eagle the national bird.  Ben preferred the Wild Turkey, but that preference didn’t work out for him.

The majority of eagle nests in Ohio are near Lake Erie.  However, there is a place in central Ohio where a Bald Eagle nest is used repeatedly year after year by a pair of birds- perhaps the same birds, for Bald Eagles mate for life.  This is in Highbanks Metro Park, along the 100-foot-tall shale bluffs overlooking the Olentangy River.  This is where I went the day after seeing the eagles flying near Hoover Reservoir.  And once again, I was not disappointed in what I saw.

There is an observation deck in the park which is a good vantage point from which to see the eagles.  I walked out to it through the spring woods.

A thousand years ago, the Adena Indian people had a village here, surrounded by earthworks and a moat.  The remnants of the moat is still used by salamanders to spawn each spring.

The day I went out was sunny and very windy; it was the first week of March, and the month was certainly roaring in like a lion.  I walked out to the observation deck, a vantage point from which you can see the eagle’s nest in a old and tall sycamore tree along the bank of the Olentangy River.

The view is a fine one, 100 feet or so above the river.  The tall white trees are sycamores.  March is a good month to look for the eagles- not only are they nesting then, but there are no leaves to obscure one’s view.

February and March are eagle nesting times.  Their nests are perhaps the largest in the bird world, being up to 8 feet in diameter and as much as 13 feet tall- these monstrous objects can literally weigh a ton!  The reason they become so big is that they can be reused year after year and they are added to each successive year.  It’s pretty hard to miss an eagle nest.  There’s an eagle there too!

Occasionally, an eagle would soar over the river in the buffeting winds.  And the winds were so strong that tree branches in the forest were smacking together rather loudly at times.  I don’t know how I managed to keep my hat on.

The soaring eagle rested on a branch down below along the river.  That’s one noble-looking bird, and it’s an unforgettable sight to see one.  May their numbers increase!

Now, back to looking for waterfowl…I almost forgot about them in all of the excitement 🙂