Bald eagles continue recovery in Georgia after becoming all but extinct

By David Pendered

Bald eagles continue their recovery in Georgia, where preliminary results of a new state study report the highest number of nests ever discovered in Georgia.

Bald eagles, nesting

A record number of bald eagle nests have been counted in Georgia this year, according to a preliminary report by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Credit: Hal Korber via naturedocumentaries.org

Aerial surveys conducted in January and March by the Department of Natural Resources revealed 210 occupied nesting territories, 166 successful nests and 270 young fledged birds – which have developed muscles and feathers sufficient to fly.

“Georgia’s nesting bald eagle population continues its impressive expansion, exemplifying conservation success through agency cooperation and public support,” Jim Ozier, a Nongame Conservation Section program manager with DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.

“And eagles,” Ozier said, “are doing their part by adaptively co-existing  with people, in many instances.”

Just 40 years ago, bald eagles were rarely sighted in Georgia. Ozier has monitored bald eagle nesting in Georgia for almost 30 years.

These are the latest (preliminary) stats on Georgia’s bald eagles:

  • Occupied eagle nest territories: 210 (12 percent increase compared to 2014)
  • Bald eagle, Berry College, bringing dinner

    A bald eagle brings dinner to fledglings in the nest at Berry College. Credit: berry.edu/eaglecam

    Successful nests: 166 (11 percent increase)

  • Young fledged: 270 (14 percent increase)
  • Counties with active nests: 62 (60 in 2014)
  • Lead nest counties: Chatham – 24; Decatur – 21; Camden­ – 12; Glynn – 11, McIntosh – 11; Liberty – 10.

Bald eagles, the national bird of the U.S., were hunted and poisoned to the brink of extinction. Fewer than 250 nesting pairs were counted by the early 1960s, according to britannica.com.

Bald eagles were hunted for a number of reasons: For sport; for bounties paid by state and federal governments; and because they were deemed a threat to livestock, according to britannica.com. In Alaska alone, more than 100,000 eagles were killed from 1917 to 1952.

The federal government intervened in 1940, with passage of the Bald Eagle Protection Act (which exempted Alaska). However, another threat to the bird appeared immediately.

Bald eagles, Berry College, on limb

Two bald eagles have called the campus of Berry College their home since 2012. Credit: berry.edu/eaglecam

Use of the insecticide DDT became widespread after World War II. DDT was viewed as a miracle drug used at the end of the war to protect civilian and troops from malaria and typhus. DDT was also found to be effective against a wide variety of agricultural pests.

In her landmark book, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson chronicled the broader impact of DDT as it spread through the food chain from insects to critters that eat insects. Bald eagles, which eat just about anything, including carrion, were among the species that were affected.

Biologists determined that DDT accumulated in the tissue of bald eagles and affected reproduction. The DDT caused birds to lay eggs with shells that were so thin the shells were crushed by the weight of the parent birds as they nested.

The U.S. banned the use of DDT in 1972 and declared the bald eagle an endangered species in most states in 1978. The measures helped. The bald eagle was upgraded to the status of threatened, in 1995, and in 2007 the bald eagle was removed from the list of threatened species.

Note to readers: Berry College has a web cam that monitors bald eagles that have nested on the campus since 2012.

 

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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