ATLANTA — Georgia's Department of Natural Resources reported a record survey of bald eagle nests this year, a welcome development after a bird flu outbreak killed several birds around the state's coastal area earlier this year.
According to DNR, surveys found 229 nest territories, beating a previous high of 218 in 2017.
There were 146 successful nests statewide. The agency said the the nests fledged 227 eagles - about 1.6 per nest - also both beating the record 2017 survey.
According to Dr. Bob Sargent, the survey lead, that number came even as the nest success rate in the coastal region fell 30% due to the bird flu outbreak.
“It’s important to remember that the bald eagle population has exhibited a remarkable rebound in the last 50 years. And although the coastal nests took a hit from the virus, the more than 150 nests elsewhere in the state experienced normal productivity," Sargent said in a statement.
DNR's findings come after the symbolic bird came close to extinction over 50 years ago.
"It's pretty shocking when you think about it, but it's also extraordinarily encouraging to realize just how far that eagle has come in its comeback from the days when it was on the brink of extinction protected under the Endangered Species Act.," said Dr. Sargent.
According to DNR, nesting numbers are determined through helicopter surveys twice a year at five different areas of the state.
"Flights in January and February mark nests in use. Follow-ups in March and April are mainly to gauge how the nests fared," a release explained.
Wildlife biologist surveying bald eagle nests
Dr. Sargent explains that the idea is to go out and look at the nests to determine whether or not they're active that season.
The agency said Georgia has reported more than 200 occupied nest territories every year since 2015.
Beyond the hit to nesting success in the coastal zone, the agency found nest success rates to be above average in the east/northeast region of the state (90%), roughly average in the north/northwest (77%) and slightly below average in the southwest (65%).
“It’s tempting to look at the 65% success rate for southwest Georgia, which is about 10 percent below the norm, and wonder if there was something wrong. But fluctuations of that magnitude are not unusual, and the good news is that we found 21 new nests in that area of the state," Sargent said. "That’s especially remarkable when I think back to the more than dozen nest trees toppled in that area by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.”
According to DNR, Georgia has seen a sharp turnaround in its bald eagle population in the last half century after a federal ban on DDT use in 1972.
"Following a steep decline in the eagle population in Georgia, the state went from no known successful nests throughout most of the 1970s to one in 1981, 47 by the turn of the century and more than 200 occupied nest territories today, about 75 percent of which are usually successful," a release said.