State News

April 6, 2014

Eagle population continues steady growth

During a late-March aerial survey by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, more than 25 bald eagle nests were counted in northeastern Georgia. All but three represented viable adults and chicks.

“Last year we were up to 171 nests we knew about statewide and I’m sure we’ll top 180 this year,” said Jim Ozier, Wildlife Resources Division program manager.

The bald eagle, once common in Georgia but completely absent during the early 1970s, is back in surprising numbers.

The March 27 survey included lakes in east Georgia, including Oconee, Sinclair and Thurmond. It logged nearly five hours in the air and covered over 500 miles.

The purpose of the mission was to check for the existence of hatchlings that might have been born since the last observation mission in January.

“We try to check all the nests early in the nesting season, in January, and at that point the territories are well established, the pairs have settled in and usually they have an egg or maybe even a young one,” Ozier said.  “We come back later to try to determine how many young were produced. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Although the current bald eagle population doesn’t have to contend with the insecticide DDT, which was largely blamed for the sharp decline of eagles nationally before it was agriculturally banned in 1972, there’s been a recent resurgence of avian vacuolar myelinopathy or AVM.

The disease is thought to be caused by a toxin produced by a bacterium that grows on the surfaces of hydrilla, an underwater plant at some sites in middle Georgia.

To illustrate the dramatic success of the eagle’s comeback in the state, only one nesting pair was known in 1980, nine in 1990 and 55 in 2000.

“There’s certainly a number of nests out there that we don’t know about. But anyway, well over 500 adults, counting the ones that are migrating through and all the ones nesting,” Ozier estimated.

But those numbers don’t include all the birds the state can call its own.

“Probably anywhere from 100 to 200 juveniles that are not quite at nesting age — anywhere from one to 4 years old. That would give us a pretty good statewide population, probably up around 700 birds or so, maybe,” he said.

As the number of bald eagles increase in the state, so does their popularity.

Officials at Berry College in Floyd County became aware of a nesting pair on campus in March 2012, though no offspring were produced that year. With the help of technology partners Georgia Power, Sony and Fluid Mesh Networks, a small camera was installed near the nest on Jan. 15. It has clocked more than 9 million hits.  

Continued growth for the state’s bald eagle population is a concerted effort among federal, state and local agencies and public support. But while conducting this survey Ozier was pleased with what he saw.

“So far things are looking good. We’re seeing young birds in most of the nests we’re looking at — one and two young eagles — which is normal, sometimes we’ll get three. So I feel like there’s enough young being produced to continue the population growth and certainly keep it at a healthy level for the next few years.”

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