By David Pendered
Georgia’s population of bald eagles has recovered to the point that the state has reduced the size of the land surveyed for nests. The shift will enable the state to reallocate money for other conservation projects, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Until this year, DNR spotters flew over the entire state to count the number of eagle nesting territories. This year, DNR spotters flew over about half the state, the area from I-85 and I-16 to the South Carolina state line.
Spotters counted nearly 110 bald eagle nesting territories in this portion of the state. The nests housed an estimated 127 young birds. To put those figures into perspective, last year DNR counted a record of 218 nests. Over the past three years, Georgia has recorded three straight years of more than 200 occupied nests in the entire state, according to DNR.
By contrast, less than 30 years the goal for entire state was 20 nests.
State environmental officials are confident the bald eagle population is growing. The money diverted from surveying the entire state will help pay for programs such as a search conducted in April for nests of perigrine falcons, according to a DNR statement.
“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,” Bob Sargent, a program manager with DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, said in a statement. “That was the most crucial consideration.”
Sargent leads the surveys, which are conducted from a helicopter fly-over. The aerial surveys are conducted in January, followed by another round in March and April.
In January, spotters look for all active nests of bald eagles – those with eggs, eaglets, an adult in an incubating posture, or evidence that eagles have been preparing the nest for use.
In March and April, spotters are checking the reproductive outcome of those nests and checking recent reports of new nests, according to DNR’s statement.
Bald eagles have made a terrific comeback in Georgia and across the nation.
The birds faced extinction 40 years ago. They were a victim of habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and contamination of its food that was attributed to DDT, according to a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The rebound in the birds’ population is credited with protection from its of species protected under the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the ban on DDT and support from the public. The bird was delisted in 2007.
Georgia continues to protect the species. Bald eagles are on the state’s list of threatened species. They remain a priority in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a guiding strategy to restore and protect native species and natural habitats, according to DNR’s statement.
Here’s the breakdown DNR provided of nests found in the 2018 aerial survey:
- “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.”