Bald eagle populations have soared to new highs in Georgia.
According to preliminary results, Georgia Department of Natural Resources aerial surveys in January and March documented 188 occupied nesting territories, 148 successful nests and 235 young fledged.
Those are the largest totals recorded for each category in decades. Some 40 years ago, this iconic raptor – symbol of the U.S. – had been nearly extirpated across much of its historic range.
Bald eagle nests numbered in the single digits in Georgia when survey leader Jim Ozier started monitoring them almost three decades ago. While nesting has steadily increased since, “We hit the grand slam this year,” said Ozier, a Nongame Conservation Section program manager with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.
2014 totals easily passed last year’s 171 nesting territories, 130 successful nests and 195 eaglets fledged.
Fittingly, the rebound of bald eagles is powered in part by Georgians who support the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund through buying or renewing a wildlife license plate – the bald eagle or ruby-throated hummingbird designs. A share of funding from the plates benefits bald eagles and the more than 1,000 other Georgia plant and animal species listed as species of conservation concern.
And starting July 1, a law change approved this year will roll back the price of wildlife plates – including the bobwhite and trout tags – to $25. More than 75 percent of purchase and annual renewal fees will be devoted to the wildlife programs that depend on them. The fee structure applies to all DNR plates, including the flying eagle design introduced with new trout and quail plate images in 2013.
Mr. Ozier said he continues to find eagle nests in new areas, including Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, McIntosh Reserve in Carroll County and Rocky Mountain Public Fishing Area near Berry College this year.
“They continue to select, and do well in, sites that I wouldn’t have considered suitable just a few years ago.”
Berry College has Georgia’s best-known eagle nest, thanks to the northwest Georgia college live-streaming nesting eagles at www.berry.edu/eaglecam. The camera, also shared at www.georgiawildlife.com/berryeaglecam, topped 15 million views this nesting season.
The public can let Mr. Ozier know about eagle nests they see by reporting them online at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/eaglenest or by phone at 478 994-1438. These reports often lead to nests not monitored before. DNR works with landowners to help protect eagle nests on their property.
Bald eagles are no longer listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but they are protected by federal and state law.
Eagle surveys are part of the DNR Nongame Section’s mission to conserve nongame wildlife – native animals not legally hunted or fished for – and native plants and natural habitats. There are no state appropriations for this work. License plates and other fundraisers such as the Wildlife Conservation Fund income tax checkoff provide vital support.
Learn more at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support. Also see how that support is put to work conserving wildlife, at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/AnnualReport.
Occupied nesting territories: 188 (preliminary)
Successful nests: 148
Young fledged: 235
Counties with active nests: 60 (57 in 2013)
Lead counties: Chatham – 26; Decatur – 14; McIntosh – 12; Camden – 10; Glynn – 10; Liberty – 10