Wildlife Wednesday 07/03/2024

It’s #WildlifeWednesday and we are celebrating the upcoming Independence Day holiday with our national symbol, the Bald Eagle!

The Bald Eagle is found throughout Ohio, with the largest concentration of birds located in the marsh regions along Lake Erie. They prefer areas with large old growth trees for nesting near open bodies of water. Primarily a fish-eating bird of prey, they will also consume ducks, rodents, reptiles, and carrion.

The Bald Eagle is a sturdy raptor, weighing between 7 and 14 pounds with a wingspan ranging from 5’11” – 7’7”. Females are about 25 percent larger than the males. The plumage of immature eagles is brown, the white feathers of the head and tail developing at around 5-6 years of age. They live for an average of 20 years in the wild and can have an even longer lifespan in captivity. 

Bald Eagles mate for life, often returning to the same nest for several years. The courtship rituals are elaborate, with the males performing astonishing aerial flight displays. The pair will lock talons and cartwheel, spin, and freefall, separating their hold on each other just before hitting the ground. The nest is the largest built by any bird in North America, and typically can be 8 feet wide and 13 feet deep.  A record-setting nest in Florida weighed nearly 3 metric tons! Another famous nest located in Vermillion, Ohio was used for 34 years and was shaped like a wine glass, weighing over 2 tons before the tree that held it blew down.

The Bald Eagle was classified as an endangered species in the mid-20th century due to severe population decline caused by the pesticide DDT. The chemical affected calcium levels in adult birds, and as a result their eggs were too thin and would break when sat upon. Illegal shooting and lead poisoning from shotgun pellets left in animal carcasses killed by hunters also contributed to their decline.

With the ban of DDT and development of wildlife protection and environmental regulations, our national birdl has made a comeback and remarkable population recovery. The Bald Eagle species status was changed from endangered to threatened, then de-listed altogether, and now holds a risk level of least concern, which is indeed something to celebrate!

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