Cold snap bad for eaglets, peaches

SANDUSKY Think it's cold out there? Try sitting naked in a pile of sticks stuck in a
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Think it's cold out there?

Try sitting naked in a pile of sticks stuck in a tree.

Better yet, be glad you're not an Ohio peach. They're as good as dead this year.

Northern Ohioans are lamenting the bitter blast of cold creeping into this week's forecast -- hopefully the last kick in the pants from Mother Nature -- but it would seemnewly-hatched eaglets and local farmers have the greatest cause to curse the crummy cold spell.

Temperatures in the greater Sandusky area are expected to hover in the low-to-mid 30s almost every night through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

There's also a 50 percent chance of snow today and a moderate chance of rain every day through Saturday.

This isn't the sort of news Erie MetroParks naturalist Joe Margetiak wants to hear.

Under the right circumstances, Margetiak said, a bad bout of weather in early April can wreak havoc on northeast Ohio's newly hatched eaglet population.

The new eagles typically hatch in late March and early April, and for the first few weeks of their lives can't regulate their body temperature.

"They rely on mom and dad to do it," Margetiak said. "When we get a cold, wet rain, they're at increased risk (for) hypothermia."

On the whole, eagles are apt parents, said Andrea Tibbels, a researcher at Ohio Department of Natural Resources. They know to sit on their brood so the youngsters stay warm. The trouble comes when the parents leave the nest for an extended period.

"If someone disturbs the nest and they fly off, obviously the (eaglets) have no protection," Margetiak said. "It's very important to make sure no one disturbs the nest, especially in this time frame."

There are roughly 200 known eagle nests in Ohio, more than a fourth of which are in Ottawa, Sandusky and Erie counties. For their part, humans are required to stay about 650 feet away from an eagle's nest.

"The birds can only do so much if the weather overpowers them," Margetiak said. "If something disturbs them and they get up, those are the kinds of intrusions that make it so doggone hard for the birds to do what they're supposed to do."

It could be weeks before wildlife officials and area volunteers determine the impact this week's cold snap might have on the eaglet population. Volunteers monitor the nests to see if the parents abandon it, which would indicate the brood has fallen victim to the cold, Margetiak said.

But infant eagles aren't the only ones battling the weather.

Ken Williams, manager at Eshleman Fruit Farms in Clyde, said he's keeping a close eye on the fruit crops as the thermometer flirts with freezing temperatures.

"Right now, we're still okay," Williams said. "We'd have to get pretty cold right now to hurt the apple crop."

The peach crop, though, is a different story.

"I'm worried about the peaches," Williams said. "The peach crop in Ohio doesn't look too promising."

Williams estimated that just 10 percent of Eshleman Farms' 50 acres of peach trees will bear fruit this year, largely because a deep freeze a few months ago slowed their progress.

"The peach trees can't handle it as well as the apples can," Williams said. "Especially once you get below 10 degrees and hold that for a few days, like we had this past winter. The peach crop doesn't look good at all. It's hard to tell what'll be good."

If there isn't another late cold spell after the apple trees blossom, the apple harvest should be right on track, Williams said.

"Warmer weather will push them quicker, but the cooler temps will keep things slowed down pretty good," he said. "Right now, I don't think it would do too much harm. If we did get a freeze for an extended period of time -- three to four days -- I still don't think we'd lose the crop."