MOUNT VERNON — A leisurely drive along the back, country roads in Knox County can prove to be a scenic and pleasurable experience. Venturing along the Kokosing River, Walhonding River or other area waterways can at times be a thrill for those hoping to catch a glimpse of one of Ohio’s beautiful and growing species ... the bald eagle.
Retired U.S. Postal Service route driver Jon Minard currently enjoys volunteering for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, reporting on his findings of bald eagle spottings as well as eagles’ nests around Knox County. “The population is up this year,” said Minard who goes out about three times each week to see if more eagles have made their way into Knox County.
His reports go directly to Crane Creek Research Station at Lake Erie. While working as a mail carrier, Minard would usually have just about an hour in the late afternoon during the wintertime to go exploring. Now retired, he has much more time to enjoy his hobby. Also joining Minard in scouting out bald eagles around Knox County is Phil Frost.
The bald eagle population in Ohio had dwindled to four nesting pair in 1972, according to ODNR reports. Reasons cited for this were loss of habitat and the use of pesticides. With the pesticide DDT being outlawed that year, plus the efforts of ODNR and other groups in bringing in more eagles, Ohio’s population of the bald eagle increased to more than 150 pairs in 2008. And Knox County is one of the areas in the state which has seen an increase in nesting eagles. With a record 251 chicks born last year in Ohio, the state has seen a jump up to 194 breeding pairs in 2011. Minard claims that Knox County alone now boasts about 40 bald eagles.
Not to be confused with the bald eagle is the golden eagle. These are rare in Ohio and are more abundant in the southern United States. The adults have a smaller, brown head instead of a white head with a smaller beak and are prone to be more aggressive. Other birds which can be mistaken as a bald eagle are the red-tailed hawk which has a smaller body, shorter wings and a pale white underbody; the turkey vulture which is smaller and lankier than the bald eagle with narrow, two-toned wings, an unfeathered red head and a distinctive V-shape in its wings; and the black vulture which is also smaller with a short, black tail and black body with pale wing tips, gray head and small bill.
Eagles are a member of the hawk family. They mate for life and usually hang together as a pair. An adult eagle can grow as large as to have a 7-foot wingspan. The female eagles are usually larger than the males. They may take two days in building their nest, working just a couple hours per day.
As the national emblem of our country, hefty fines can be sanctioned if caught shooting an eagle or in possession of eagle feathers.
“The fine is astronomical, and you’d probably do jail time,” said Minard. The fine for possessing eagles’ feathers is $10,000, according to Minard. The only exception to this rule would be if you are Native American. Federal guidelines prohibit any activity within 300 feet of eagles’ nests.
A recent trip with Minard on a gray, rainy morning produced sightings of numerous bald eagle nests as well as a few eagles around Knox County. “It’s almost like a puzzle,” said Minard of his many treks in spotting eagles, which he has been doing since 1992. His best time for spotting eagles is November through mid-May, before the leaves and foliage fill out. The best times of the day for eagle sightings are at dusk and dawn.