Bald eagles thriving locally

Bald eagles have become a fairly common sight along the Muskingum River Parkway between Devola and Stockport this year.

The large birds were apparently so plentiful during last month’s frigid weather that Mary Yost of Barlow took a photo of one with her cell phone.

“It was during a snowstorm in February. They’re easier to spot when the snow is on,” she said. “We counted about 25 bald eagles that day. They were looking for areas where the river was not frozen.”

Her husband, Jean Yost, said they were driving along Muskingum River Road between Marietta and Lowell and spotted several bald eagles.

“The snow was pouring down and most of the river was frozen, so they were catching fish along the dams where the river didn’t freeze,” he said.

Jean said although it’s easier to spot eagles when snow is on the ground, the birds can be seen almost any time of year at the Stockport Mill where they’ve built nests nearby.

Don Wilson, who lives on Water Street on Lowell’s Buell Island, has seen plenty of bald eagles that often perch in a tree along the Muskingum River near his home.

“We can watch them through the front windows of our house,” he said. “I saw the first one here in 1997, and we’ve seen at least 11 eagles this year. They seem to come and go at different times, with no apparent rhyme nor reason.”

Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, who helps operate his family business, Birdwatcher’s Digest in Marietta, said bald eagles have been especially noteworthy due to this year’s harsh winter.

“It could be related to the extended freezing weather,” he said. “Most like to stay to the north, around Lake Erie and into Canada. In Alaska bald eagles are as common as starlings are here.”

Thompson said Lake Erie froze over this winter, so some of the eagles probably came to this area looking for easy access to food.

“And eagles aren’t the greatest of hunters,” he said. “They’re just as happy stealing food from other birds instead of catching it themselves.”

In addition to the migration from northern climes, the number of bald eagles making their home locally has increased, too.

“There was a time in the 1960s and 70s that the eagle population was dwindling, but an active effort to protect the bald eagle in recent years has increased the population,” Thompson said. “And it is something people should get excited about. Also it’s nice to know people are noticing these birds now. And that may get them interested in other birds, too.”