Bald eagles suddenly gathering in large numbers in Cleveland’s Industrial Valley

Bald Eagle

Bald eagles suddenly gathering in large numbers in Cleveland’s Industrial Valley

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A remarkable environmental reawakening is unfolding in the city’s Industrial Valley, led by the country’s national symbol, the bald eagle.

Just a few months after the first successful bald eagle’s nest in the valley in more than a century produced a pair of young raptors, that eagle family is proving to be a magnet for other eagles.

Early during Thanksgiving week, Cleveland Metroparks naturalists counted as many as 15 bald eagles perched in the trees around the nest, located in a cottonwood a short distance from factories, highways and landfills, but within sight of the Towpath Trail, about one mile south of Harvard Road and a few hundred yards from the busy Jennings Freeway.

Five eagles were spotted in the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation this past weekend as they roamed the Cuyahoga River corridor in search of fish and other prey.

The majority of Ohio’s 221 pairs of nesting bald eagles are typically found along the Lake Erie shoreline and at other large lakes and reservoirs in the state. But as winter approaches, the adult eagles and more than 300 newly fledged juveniles scatter from their nesting grounds, roaming about the state in search of new sources of food, according to surveys by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

“The phenomenon of post-fledging dispersal is pretty well documented,” said Harvey Webster, chief wildlife officer and museum ambassador at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “By fall, we find huge gatherings of eagles at the mouths of rivers and estuaries, probably because those are dynamic areas with lots of resources available to them.”

Eagles are primarily fish eaters, but have developed into diversified hunters since their recovery in Ohio over the past 40 years, Webster said. Their diet now includes waterfowl, muskrats, road-killed deer, even cats, as one classroom of students discovered to their horror while watching a nest camera in Harrisburg, Pa., recently.

“They go where the food is,” Webster said. “I think these eagles on the Cuyahoga River are responding to that. It’s really cool to see, and I hope it continues. To have a bird that goes after Canada geese is a healthy thing for the balance of the ecosystem.”

The eagles have been a source of pride for the Metroparks staff, serving as symbols of the river’s recovery since it famously caught fire in 1969, and perfectly timed in preparation for the 50-year anniversary celebration planned for next June. More than a dozen eagle nests are active in Northeast Ohio.

“The eagles have been gathering here for some time, but never anything approaching these numbers,” said Karen Lakus, a historical interpreter at the reservation for the past eight years.

The eagles arrived at an opportune time as the park prepares to mark the 20-year anniversary of the opening of the CanalWay Center next year, she said.

“For a long time, we weren’t seen as a destination for viewing wildlife,” Lakus said. “But now people are coming here from far and wide, and the eagles are a major draw.”

The bald eagle’s recovery can be traced to the banning of the pesticide DDT, the cleansing of the environment and expanded habitat. The eagles were on the brink of extinction in 1979, when there were only four nesting pairs in Ohio. It no longer is on the federal or state endangered species lists, but it is in a federal monitoring stage for five years.

“As their numbers have increased, we’re seeing amazing adaptability,” Webster said. “They’re nesting next to neighborhoods in the suburbs, in school yards and along rivers as never before.”

With so many resources available in the Industrial Valley, the resident nesting eagles apparently aren’t concerned about defending their home territory from the nearly dozen interlopers, Webster said.

“But I don’t think they would tolerate this as they get closer to breeding season in early February,” he said.

Originally posted at Cleveland on Nov, 28 2018.
All Photos by Karen Lakus/Cleveland Metroparks

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