keep an eye on eagles in their nests
50 amateur watchers help monitor progress
By Steve Murphy
OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Jewelie Dunlapís 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 countyís first pair of bald eagles.
"I spend hours down there now," she said. "No
less than two, three hours at a time. Itís a first-time
nest, a big sycamore tree. Itís just beautiful."
The eaglesí 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 pairsí 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 relativeís 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. Ohioís
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 birdsí nests or habitat. She said she has seen curiosity-seekers
walking under the Putnam County nest.
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.
"Itís too bad we canít educate the public more,"
she said. "They donít have a clue. ... They just
donít know the boundaries."
Mark Shieldcastle, head biologist at the stateís Crane
Creek Wildlife Research Station in Ottawa County, told
class members their observations will help officials keep
track of the birdsí reproductive cycle and decide when
they need to step in and save an egg or newborn chick.
"You donít need to be an ornithologist," he
said. "You will learn what you need to know. Itís
not rocket science."
Monitors must visit the nest or nests theyíre 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.
Theyíll move gingerly around the nest, trying to avoid
"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
youíre in business. If both are on the nest, you really
know somethingís 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.