Wildlife Watching Along the Ohio River
Whether walking along its banks or paddling in its waters, spending some time around the Ohio River affords an excellent opportunity to see wildlife. River corridors attract a wide variety of animals that may be seeking relief from the summer heat, looking for a bite to eat or trying to fulfill other habitat needs.
Although the most likely trace you may see of wary mammals are the tracks they leave behind on the muddy banks, you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a beaver, hard at work repairing the lodge. Maybe you will be fortunate enough to spot a playful river otter! Both species’ populations have rebounded over the last 20 years from being trapped into extirpation (local extinction) in Ohio in the mid-1800s for their soft, luxurious fur.
River corridors also offer spectacular birding prospects. Migratory birds, whether tiny warblers, waterfowl or raptors, all use visual cues to find their way. Rivers are just one type of route in their “roadmap” seen from above. It just so happens that there are many places for them to stop along the way to grab a bite to eat on their long journey.
Bald eagle sightings are becoming more frequent as the species recovers from an all-time low of four nesting pairs in 1979 to nearly 200 pairs counted last year. Nests built in strong sycamore or cottonwood trees along the river are a perfect location to raise a family. As a matter of fact, their nestlings are fledging right now! Eagles will eat rodents and even carrion, but their preferred food is fish. Using their powerful “fishhook” talons and bumpy, non-slip-grip feet, they can successfully hunt, consume and bring back several pounds of fish in a day for their young.
Although the characteristic white feathered head and tail make them easy to identify, juvenile eagles are dark brown throughout, growing more white feathers on the head and tail with each year. By the time they reach about five years old, they are considered mature and have the distinctive plumage. If you suspect you’re looking at a juvenile eagle, take note of its size. Not only is an eagle exceptionally larger than a hawk, but the beak is as bulky as the head and the talons are remarkably sizeable as well. In flight, an eagle holds its wings perfectly straight as a board, with not even the slightest bit of a “V” shape.
Even if your visit to the Ohio River doesn’t yield a wildlife sighting as dramatic as a bald eagle, taking a moment to relax, take a deep breath and enjoy the scenery is very good for the soul!
Suzanne Roth, Hub Naturalist, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve