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Published: Monday, 1/15/2001

Frozen Lake Erie forces eagles into southern Ohio

OAK HARBOR - Ohio's bald eagles apparently lost patience with frigid weather long before last week's warming spell.

Many are spending the winter in southern Ohio, until Lake Erie thaws. Others probably wound up in Indiana, Tennessee, Maryland, and other states east of the Mississippi River that have open bodies of water, said Mark Shieldcastle, a state wildlife biologist in Ottawa County who oversees eagle-protection efforts.

“They're working their way south, looking for open water,” Mr. Shieldcastle said.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife last week announced that only 57 bald eagles were counted during its annual midwinter survey, done by airplane. Last year, during a fairly mild winter, there were 70.

Thirty were in the southern part of the state, a bit of an oddity considering that western Lake Erie - especially the marshy areas of Ottawa County - is usually the most popular nesting area.

Adults prefer not to migrate, but they will pick up and go if their access to food becomes limited. Eagles eat a lot of fish, and western Lake Erie is frozen this year. “We would have seen them up here if it wasn't for the weather conditions,” Mr. Shieldcastle said.

He said he has no reason to believe the birds are staying away for any reason other than the weather.

“I think it's a weather-related thing,” he said.

The latest survey taken by ground has yet to be completed.

Officials don't get close enough to check eagle bands, but they have a pretty good idea where the birds stay because of their past activity.

As a rule, eagles from the Great Lakes region don't migrate all the way to Florida. They usually stop at the first open body of water they find, then return to nests they're most familiar with during the spring, Mr. Shieldcastle said.

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