SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. – Recent surveys of bald eagle nests across the eastern half of Georgia underscored the national bird’s continued resurgence in the state – and in more ways than one.
Checking by helicopter, Department of Natural Resources survey leader Bob Sargent counted nearly 110 eagle nesting territories in the six coastal counties and an area bounded roughly by interstates 16 and 85 and the South Carolina line. Those nests fledged an estimated 127 young.
The totals are encouraging. So is DNR’s switch in 2018 from flying the entire state each year to only half.
According to Sargent, the change maintains standardized monitoring while syncing with the raptor’s range-wide comeback and mirroring slimmed-down eagle counts in some neighboring states. It also frees money for other needed conservation projects. One is last month’s search for peregrine falcon nests in north Georgia.
What the change doesn’t signal is that conserving eagles is less important, said Sargent, a program manager with DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section. Bald eagles are state-listed as threatened and remain a priority in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a guiding strategy to restore and protect native species and natural habitats.
“We determined that cutting the survey effort by 50 percent would not compromise our ability to identify and address a decline in productivity of our nesting eagles, should it occur. That was the most crucial consideration.”
The revisions follow three straight years of 200-plus occupied nest territories and only 11 years after Georgia’s nest total topped 100. Almost 30 years ago, the Southeastern recovery plan for bald eagles set a goal of 20 nests for the state. DNR documented a state-record 218 last year.
Many factors have fueled the bald eagle’s recovery: a U.S. ban on DDT use in 1972, habitat improvements after enactment of the federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts, protection through the Endangered Species Act, increased public awareness, restoration of local populations through release programs, and forest regrowth.
Yet even though on the rebound, eagles still face threats. They vary from avian vacuolar myelinopathy, a disease primarily affecting coots and the eagles that prey on them, to being shot by people and hit by cars.
The Nongame Conservation Section monitors eagle nesting through aerial surveys in January and again in March and April. The initial flights are focused on finding all active nests: those with eggs, eaglets, an adult in an incubating posture or evidence that eagles have been prepping the nest for use. The second round of surveys is aimed at determining the reproductive outcome of those nests and checking recently reported new nests.
The public is encouraged to report eagle nests via www.georgiawildlife.com/bald-eagle, (478) 994-1438) or firstname.lastname@example.org. One tip: Osprey nests are sometimes confused with eagles’. If unsure, check out the differences online, including at http://bit.ly/2ptuRtm.
DNR works with landowners to help protect bald eagle nests on private property. Although de-listed from the Endangered Species Act in 2007, eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and state law. In Georgia, the species is state-listed as threatened.
The Nongame Conservation Section’s mission is to conserve eagles and other Georgia wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and contributions to the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. That makes public support critical.
Georgians can help by buying or renewing a DNR eagle or hummingbird license plate. Most of the fees are dedicated to wildlife. Upgrade to a wild tag for only $25! Learn more at www.georgiawildlife.com/licenseplates.
Supporters can also donate at www.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com. Click “Licenses and Permits” and log in to give. (New customers can create an account.) Details at www.georgiawildlife.com/donations.
Visit www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/annualreport to see how this support is put to work for wildlife.
EAGLE SURVEY INSIGHTS
While the 2018 survey covered from the coast to northeast Georgia, eagle nests in areas not usually checked were reported and monitored by volunteers and DNR staff. Survey leader Dr. Bob Sargent also checked nearly half of the known nests in northwest Georgia while flying to look for peregrine falcon eyries. The totals:
Six coastal counties (including barrier islands): 79 occupied nest territories, with 64 fledging at least one eaglet (81 percent success rate) and 95 young fledged (1.2 per occupied territory).
Northeastern area (I-16 to the south, I-85 to the north and west, and the Savannah River to the east and northeast, excluding Savannah): 28 occupied nest territories, with 19 fledging at least one eaglet (68 percent success rate) and 32 young fledged (1.1 per occupied territory).
Total (including data from volunteer and staff monitors): 123 occupied nest territories, with 97 fledging at least one eaglet (79 percent success rate – which is on the upper end of the average long-term range) and 147 young fledged (1.2 per occupied territory, the long-term average).
Notes: Three to four nests were either substantially damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Irma last fall. However, 11 new nests were found, including five on the coast. One was the first known ground nest of a bald eagle recorded in Georgia. It was made in the wrack on Cabbage Island, southwest of Tybee Island. Unfortunately, the nest failed sometime in late March.