SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), bald eagles in coastal Georgia have significantly recovered from the bird flu that affected them last year.
According to Dr. Bob Sargent, survey leader of the DNR, nesting success was average to above average this year.
“Last year’s exceptionally poor nesting results on the coast, as well as the lower than usual success rate in southwest Georgia, was worrisome because those areas combine for about 85 percent of our known eagle nests,” he said. “The comeback of the bald eagle in Georgia is a great conservation success story, but the species is listed as threatened in the state and if high nest failures continued they could chip away at population gains. I’m pleased to see the nest success rates rebound this year.”
The 2023 survey, which monitored nesting success, was taken in southwest Georgia, coastal counties, barrier islands, the Oconee and Ocmulgee River corridors, and a few reservoirs southeast of Atlanta.
In April 2022, the DNR announced that avian influenza, also known as bird flu, had caused a 30% decrease in nest success. Fewer than half the nests in these areas fledged even one eagle.
Although the DNR has not seen a positive influenza test from the bald eagles this year, officials have reported dead eaglets in two of the nests in coastal Georgia. This indicates that the flu may still be present in some hotspots. However, there is not enough evidence of this in order to confirm it considering there are many different reasons as to why the eaglets did not survive.
Nest success in coastal Georgia charted at 73% this year. On the coast, 81 nest territories measured notably higher than average, up from 73 in 2022. Nesting success this year rated average at 1.5 young per nest, which is a significant increase from the following year.
“The nest success on the coast and in southwest Georgia are a reminder of the importance of not overreacting to a poor nest success year,” Dr. Sargent said. “Severe weather in early to mid-winter, viral outbreaks and other problems that seem like calamities at the time can result in poor reproductive years. But eagles are resilient, and have bounced back from far worse population-level challenges.”