Bald Eagle Great Miami River
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Butler County's Favorite Couple - Ralph and Alice

Bald Eagles are magnificent creatures, which is why they have been the national emblem for the United States since 1782. These regal birds are considered an ultimate endangered species come back story. Starting in the 60's the Bald Eagle numbers plummeted from the effects of the pesticide DDT, and became an endangered species. Once DDT was banned and the species was fully protected under the Endangered Species Act, their numbers began to rebound. In 2007, the Bald Eagle was removed from the federal endangered species list.

Almost 6 years ago, Bald Eagles Ralph and Alice captured the hearts of many locals around Butler County — Nesting in Hamilton, the couple has created a large fan base. 

Bald Eagle numbers continue to grow throughout the country—specifically growing 3 - 5% just in Ohio because Bald Eagles typically nest near bodies of water for easy access to food. The Great Miami River flows through Butler County, where two Bald Eagles have continued to make their home. Known as Ralph and Alice, they are Butler County's favorite couple. 

Photo Credit : David Downie

 

Butler County's Couple

In the past few years Ralph and Alice have gained quite the fan club, making them one of the hottest couples in Butler County. Locals and bird watchers from all over come out to see these two in one of their hotspots around Hamilton. Although Ralph and Alice nest alongside the river in Hamilton, they can be seen anywhere from Trenton down to the South edge of Hamilton. 

David Downie, a retired Fairfield Township Firefighter, discovered the local Bald Eagles about five years ago. He had never been interested in photography or bird watching before, but once he found the nests, his passion sparked. Since then, photographing Ralph and Alice has been a hobby for him...and he has learned a great deal about Bald Eagles in the process.  "I usually go everyday to look for them," he says. "In my time here, I have seen Ralph and Alice have ten successful eaglets."

 Photo Credit : David Downie

Ralph and Alice are on their sixth mating season together, and according to Stephen Flynn, have had 12 eaglets in total. Stephen has been photographing Eagles for the past eight years, and saw Ralph and Alice start their first nest together.

"I spent many hours watching after work and on weekends. As I met and talked to other people about them I learned that Ralph had lost his first mate when their nest was across from the New Miami High School," Stephen says. "A couple of school teachers from New Miami told me that Ralph's mate was in the nest with their babies, and the tree was struck by lightning in a storm."

Ralph and Alice then found each other and started their first mating season over 5 years ago. Bald Eagles usually begin to mate when they are 4 - 5 years old, and can live to be up to 20 years old. 

"Alice was 4.5 during her first mating season, so she should be around 10 years old by April," says Stephen. "Ralph could be at least 12 now, maybe more."

Photo Credit : David Downie

Although the couple can be spotted a few places around Butler County, photographers typically get the best shot near the nest during mating season.  

Carl Gentry is another local that started to follow Ralph and Alice years ago. "I never thought I would ever experience seeing a Bald Eagle around here," he says. "There was a day we saw many Eagles on the river, and Ralph was protecting his territory and Alice. That day was my first time getting a picture with an eagle catching a fish. I have been hooked on taking pictures of them ever since."

Photo Credit : David Downie

"One of my first experiences was when David and I saw an Eagle dive into the water at Columbia Bridge...It was Ralph. He caught a big shad fish and it was so heavy for him he just floated in the middle of the river for a minute," Carl explains. "He finally got it airborne and flew across the river with it. David and I drove to the other side of the river and got great pictures as he was eating. He had a full stomach and as he left, he gave us great flight shots."

Photo Credit : David Downie 

From late July to October, the couple can be hard to see. Bald Eagle sightings are most common starting at the beginning of the year while they're preparing their nests. The female lays her eggs anytime from mid February to late March. 

Photo Credit : David Downie

Both the male and female spend time building the nest, incubating the eggs, and share the feeding responsibilities. It was actually Ralph and Alice's nest building tendencies that got them their names. 

Stephen Flynn came up with the names Ralph and Alice after the popular 50's sitcom The Honeymooners. The show is known for being one of the first U.S. television shows to portray a working-class, married couple in an imperfect manner— displaying the couple's bickering and Alice's quick sarcasm, which matched the personalities of our Bald Eagle couple.

"As David and I would discuss about their daily routines, we referred to them as the male and the female, but it felt like that was missing the elegance that these majestic beauties deserved," Stephen says. "So as we would watch them fight over placement of each stick in the nest as they built it, I said they fight like The Honeymooners...so we called them Ralph and Alice."  

Photo Credit : The Honeymooners

Aside from their rather serious and intimidating appearance, Bald Eagles are known to have a playful side. "Ralph and Alice will get into arguments when building their nest or being playful, and you'll even see them nip at each other," David explains. 

Photo Credit : David Downie

 

Their Biggest Fans

In August of 2017, David, Stephen, Carl and a few other fellow photographers started a Facebook Group for Ralph and Alice.

"David and I decided we should start a page for them to celebrate the eagle's comeback to our area," Stephen says. The group has grown into a lot of Ralph and Alice fans.Today, the group is approaching 2,500 members. While majority of the members are local, David says they have quite a few members from out of state, and even international. 

"We try to keep the group educational as much as it is fun," David says. 

Photo Credit : David Downie

The group is an opportunity for photographers and bird watchers to share their stunning photos, post articles about Bald Eagles, and share information about Ralph and Alice.

"That's the beauty about having a group of photographers," David explains, "We can post about when and where they are out, so no one has to waste a drive."

For the last two years, the group also creates a calendar with a compilation of group member's photography of Ralph and Alice. They sell the calendars to raise money for what they are most passionate about. This year, the group raised nearly $800 for the Glen Helen Raptor Center which is a bird rehabilitation center in Yellow Springs, OH. 

Moving forward, the group hopes to see more of Ralph and Alice's eaglets and continue to share their love of Ralph and Alice with future new members, fellow bird watchers and other photographers. 

And since Bald Eagles mate for life, we hope to continue to see our favorite couple— and their eaglets— around Butler County for many years to come. 

Photo Credit : David Downie

 

 

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