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Bald eagle populations soar in Georgia

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US Fish and Wildlife Service

Bald eagle populations are on the rise in Georgia, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

The news comes from Georgia’s first statewide survey of eagle nests in five years. According to the survey, 229 bald eagle nests were spotted across the state, 11 more than surveyors counted five years ago. Of those 229 nests, 146 were successful, and fledged 227 eaglets.

The most successful nests were found in northeast and east Georgia, with a 90 percent nest success rate. However, nests on the Georgia coast continue to be hammered by bird flu, and their nest success dropped nearly a third this year.

“The results of the coastal survey were worrisome and discouraging," said survey leader Dr. Bob Sargent. "We are keeping a close eye on reports of [highly pathogenic avian influenza] in eagles, vultures and waterfowl in the northern U.S. and keeping our fingers crossed that a resurgence of the virus does not occur when ducks, vultures and eagles that winter in the South return to the state this fall.”

Nest success was also below average in southwest Georgia, possibly due in part to the destruction of over a dozen nest trees by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

But overall, says the Department of Natural Resources, the news is good.

“It’s important to remember that the bald eagle population has exhibited a remarkable rebound in the last 50 years," said Sargent. "And although the coastal nests took a hit from the virus, the more than 150 nests elsewhere in the state experienced normal productivity.”

For most of the 1970s, the state had no bald eagle nests. By the year 2000, 47 eagle couples had taken up residence in the state, and the DNR believes that the state has maintained more than 200 nests since 2015.

DNR encourages the public to report eagle nests via https://georgiawildlife.com/bald-eagle or (478) 994-1438. Such reports typically lead to the discovery of 10-15 new nests a year.

If you find an active eagle nest, stay at least 330 feet away from an active eagle nest in compliance with federal guidelines. Although no longer covered under the Endangered Species Act, eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and state law. In Georgia, the species has a state classification of threatened.

Wildlife officials say the best place to spot eagles in the wild are on barrier islands or large lakes, like Lake Oconee. Populations tend to be at their largest in the winter months, thanks to visiting eagles from northern areas wintering in the state’s milder climate.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.