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Published: Monday, 2/2/2004

Volunteers keep an eye on eagles in their nests

A bald eagle guards its nest on the grounds of Camp Perry near Port Clinton. A bald eagle guards its nest on the grounds of Camp Perry near Port Clinton.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Jewelie Dunlap s idea of a good time is to peer through a telescope at a bowl of sticks and mud near her home in Putnam County. The newly built nest is home to the county s first pair of bald eagles.

“I spend hours down there now,” she said. “No less than two, three hours at a time. It s a first-time nest, a big sycamore tree. It s just beautiful.”

The eagles arrival a quarter-mile from her home in Sugar Creek Township spurred Ms. Dunlap to sign on as a volunteer to monitor nests for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Yesterday, she and about 50 other amateur eagle-watchers attended a training seminar led by state officials at the Carroll Township hall south of Oak Harbor.

Participants, ranging from newcomers such as Ms. Dunlap to veteran nest monitors like Tim Bihn of Perrysburg, reviewed how to document eagle pairs progress during the nesting season, which lasts from February through June in Ohio.

Mr. Bihn, who is beginning his third year as a nest-watcher, said he became interested in eagles after seeing one in flight over a relative s house near I-75 at State Rt. 795 about 10 years ago.

“I had never seen one,” he recalled. “I thought they were dead in the state of Ohio.”

At one time, pollution in the Great Lakes had crippled the bald eagle population, and Ohio had almost none. Ohio s first midwinter survey in 1979 found just six of the birds statewide. A survey last month recorded 352, up from 304 a year ago.

Last spring, 105 eaglets were hatched from a record 88 nests in Ohio.

Ms. Dunlap said she hopes to help inform people about Ohio and federal laws that bar people from disturbing the birds nests or habitat. She said she has seen curiosity-seekers walking under the Putnam County nest.

Volunteers Vic and Lois Harder of Oak Harbor look for an eagle near the nest in a tree in the background. Volunteers Vic and Lois Harder of Oak Harbor look for an eagle near the nest in a tree in the background.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

The presence of humans near a nest can cause an eagle to become jittery and get off a nest, endangering any eggs that are being incubated.

“It s too bad we can t educate the public more,” she said. “They don t have a clue. ... They just don t know the boundaries.”

Mark Shieldcastle, head biologist at the state s Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station in Ottawa County, told class members their observations will help officials keep track of the birds reproductive cycle and decide when they need to step in and save an egg or newborn chick.

“You don t need to be an ornithologist,” he said. “You will learn what you need to know. It s not rocket science.”

Monitors must visit the nest or nests they re assigned at least once a week, Mr. Shieldcastle said. They need a telescope that magnifies objects at least 45 times. They also need a lot of patience.

For instance, if a female sinks into its nest near the typical incubation date, a monitor should sit tight and watch for signs that the bird has laid an egg. Once that happens, the prospective mother or its partner will begin gently rolling the egg to keep it warm on all sides.

Except for brief periods of 20 minutes or less, one of the two adults will stay on the egg until it hatches. They ll move gingerly around the nest, trying to avoid crushing it.

“Once you get where that bird is in a horizontal position, you want to stay there until they do something,” he said. “When you get a mate exchange, you know you re in business. If both are on the nest, you really know something s happening.”

Typically, an eaglet will hatch 35 days after the egg is laid, so knowing when the incubation began is critical, Mr. Shieldcastle said.

If the due date passes and observers see no signs of the adults feeding a newborn, state officials will consider climbing into the nest to transfer any eggs to an incubator or another nest. However, deciding when to intervene is a tricky business.

Wait too long, and the egg may go cold. Act too soon, and you may scare the parents off.

Mr. Shieldcastle recalled what happened when state officials decided to rescue an egg from a nest where the parents appeared to be missing. When they looked in the nest, they were stunned to see a live, three-day-old chick.

“We scrambled to get out of there as quickly as possible,” he said.

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