Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009 Bald Eagle Surveys Show Rise in Nests, Young

AAG Note: Fayette County was blessed this year as a number of bald eagles wintered over in Peachtree City. These giant wonders of nature were absolutely gorgeous as they flew around the lake. We'll be on the watch for them again next year.

Bald eagle populations continue to soar in Georgia, with 2009 totals from the state Department of Natural Resources showing increases in nests and young fledged.

Checks done mainly by helicopter this winter and spring counted 124 occupied bald eagle nesting territories, 98 successful nests and 162 young fledged. That’s up from last year when 112 occupied territories, 85 successful nests – those in which eagles are raised to the point they can fly – and 134 eaglets were reported. The 2008 numbers marked a slight dip from the previous year.

Nongame program manager Jim Ozier of the DNR Wildlife Resources Division said Georgia’s eagle population has been gradually increasing for years. These iconic raptors, taken off the federal endangered/threatened species list in summer 2008, are nesting in suitable habitat across the state, taking advantage of reservoirs and ponds that offer their primary prey – fish.

“Thirteen (new) nests were documented this year,” including the first at Lake Blue Ridge, Ozier said.

The surveys led by Ozier, who has monitored Georgia’s bald eagles for two decades, are an example of the programs supported by Georgians who buy a wildlife conservation license plate or donate to the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff. Both programs benefit the Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state funds for its mission to help conserve Georgia wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in the state.

Bald eagles are one of more than 600 high-priority nongame animals and plants identified in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan, a strategy guiding state conservation efforts. But even though eagles and their nests are big – nests average 5 feet wide – they can be hard to find.

Bald eagles typically use the same nest, often built in the tops of tall pine or cypress trees. But each year some established pairs build new ones. If the new nest is near the old, it is usually easy to find, Ozier said. But some nests are much farther away and more difficult to pinpoint.

Reports from the public can help. Georgians who see a bald eagle nest or two or more eagles together are encouraged to download the form at www.georgiawildlife.com (click “Conservation,” “Species of Concern,” “Bird Conservation” and then “Report Nesting Bald Eagles”). Send the completed form to Jim Ozier, jim.ozier@gadnr.org or Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, Nongame Conservation Section, 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, GA 31029.

When eaglets leave the nest, they are the same size as adults but dark brown, almost black. Bald eagles gain the characteristic white head and tail feathers at 4 to 5 years old

Conservation laws, restoration work and a ban on the pesticide DDT have helped the bald eagle recover from near-extinction through much of its range 40 years ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the species off the federally threatened list in August 2008. This American symbol and subject of one of Georgia’s nongame wildlife license plates is still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and other federal and state legislation.

Bald eagle nests numbered in the single digits in Georgia when Ozier started searching for them. Nesting territories steadily increased, then surged from the low 80s to 96 in 2006 and beyond 100 in recent years.

Nests are concentrated along the coast, but can be found across the state, usually near major rivers or lakes where the fish, waterbirds and even turtles that eagles eat are abundant.

BALD EAGLES at a glance

** Size: Adults can weigh 14 pounds, with 8-foot wingspans. Males are slightly smaller.

** Prey: Fish are a staple. Eagles also eat waterfowl, turtles, snakes, rabbits and other small animals.

** Mates: Eagles mate for life. They often use the same nest, adding to it each year. (Nests up to 10 feet wide and weighing a half-ton have been recorded.)

** Offspring: Pairs typically lay one to three eggs by December. The young fledge in three months and are on their own in about four.

** Long-lived: Bald eagles live up to 15-25 years in the wild, longer in captivity.

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