Tuesday morning, two days before Independence Day, I was on my way to work and for the first time this year I decided to ride my old Harley-Davidson Sportster down to the Soil and Water Conservation District Office.
I was riding down East Main Street in Pomeroy (anywhere else I would say I was riding west along East Main Street, but here along the river we use “up” and “down” for cardinal directions) and flying over the river and parallel to me was a young Bald Eagle, its head and tail starting to show the characteristic white that makes the Bald Eagle so distinctive and unmistakable from other bird.
While they are undoubtedly majestic, to me Bald Eagles are more powerful than graceful, their large wings beating strongly to move their considerable bulk through the sky. When viewed soaring, from the front or back the eagle holds its wings level in flight, compared to the turkey vulture’s wings which form a wide, shallow “V.” The eagle is also conspicuously larger.
For about a mile, the Bald Eagle and I paced each other down the river until it banked left and headed for the West Virginia side. For me it was definitely a “‘Merica!” sort of moment, the kind where I just wanted to yell and pump my arm in the air – especially given the proximity to this Independence Day holiday. The eagle, for the record, did not share my patriotic zeal. In fact, it seemed totally oblivious to its national emblem status, or even to the fact that the ungainly, non-flying, two-legged animals had a nation to represent.
In my younger days I would have never had the opportunity to enjoy this sight. There simply weren’t any Bald Eagles around here – and very few elsewhere.
Forty years ago, the Bald Eagle was a species on the brink, suffering due to loss of habitat, and declining numbers of its favorite food, shorebirds and waterfowl. Many eagles were shot due to the perception that they threatened livestock, and the pesticide DDT built up in adult eagles causing them to lay thin-shelled eggs which cracked before their young could hatch.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bald Eagle’s recovery is an American success story. It no longer needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act because its population is protected, healthy, and growing.
Some of what we did to bring the Bald Eagle back was: banning the use of DDT, prohibiting the killing of eagles, improved water quality in lakes and rivers, protecting nest sites, and restoring eagles to areas where they had been eliminated.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Wildlife, in 1979, only four Bald Eagle nests existed in Ohio, by 1999 that number had increased to 57 nests, and then 10 years later the number was 215 nests – quite a recovery! Since 2012 the nest counts were replaced by aerial surveys, and in 2018, the number of estimated breeding pairs increased to 286, and those pairs produced an estimated total of 445 young.
Over the past few years I have seen Bald Eagles in Gallia and Meigs counties, in other neighboring counties, and across the river in West Virginia in Jackson and Mason counties. Last year we had one show up, as if on cue, on Independence Day in Hartford, WV.
I will leave you with some bald eagle biology facts from the USFWS: The Bald Eagle is truly an all-American bird; it is the only eagle unique to North America. Nests are sometimes used year after year and can weigh as much as 4,000 pounds. Bald Eagles may live 30 years in the wild (even longer in captivity). Bald Eagles pair for life, but if one dies, the survivor will accept a new mate. In hot climates, like Louisiana and Florida, Bald Eagles nest during winter. Bald eagles get their distinctive white head and tail only after they reach maturity at 4 to 5 years of age.
I understand that there are parts of the United States and Canada where Bald Eagles are commonplace or even considered a nuisance. As for me, I hope I never lose the thrill of seeing our beautiful national bird.
Jim Freeman is employed with the Meigs Soil and Water Conservationist and is a long-time contributor. He can be reached weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org