Bald eagle nesting still strong, but success rate drops in parts of Georgia

Georgia News

FILE – In this Feb. 1, 2016 file photo, a bald eagle takes flight at the Museum of the Shenandaoh Valley in Winchester, Va. While once-endangered bald eagles are booming again in the Chesapeake Bay, the overall trajectory of endangered species and the federal act that protects them isn’t so clearcut. (Scott Mason/The Winchester Star via AP, File)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Bald eagle nesting remains strong in Georgia, but the number of successful nests declined this year, compared to long-term averages. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says heavy rainfall in North Georgia is likely to blame.

This information is based on an annual DNR survey, led this year by Dr. Bob Sargent.

Sargent counted 117 eagle nest territories in January, March and early April in three regions of the state: six coastal counties, part of east Georgia near I-16, I-85 and the South Carolina line, and the counties north of Atlanta. The rest of Georgia usually has about 85 active nests, so Sargent estimates that the state likely had 200 or more eagle nests for the sixth year in a row.

The survey shows that 126 eagles fledged, or became capable of flight, from 82 nests. This rate of 1.5 fledglings per nest matched the long-term average. However, the percentage of successful nests was lower than average in northern counties, from Hall to Rabun, west to Dade, and south to Floyd and Bartow counties.

“More than half of the latter area’s 15 nests failed to fledge young, and nest territories in the eastern region of the state fledged fewer young than average, too,” said Sargent.

According to the National Weather Service date, many north Georgia communities received up to twice the average rainfall in early 2020. Rainfall remained above average in March, as well.

DNR says that excessive rain can postpone eagle nesting and cause nest failure. It also negatively impacts the birds’ ability to catch food.

Though this may sound bad, Sargent says he is not concerned about this season’s poor success rate for eagle nests, as nests in northern Georgia only represent a small percentage of the state’s total.

“Populations of many wildlife species exhibit fluctuations in reproductive success from year to year, sometimes wildly so, and these fluctuations are often related to bad timing of unusually cold or rainy spells. By comparison, it is not a rare occurrence for the failure rate of songbird nests in some localities to exceed 50% due to weather factors.” Sargent said. “The overall productivity trend for bald eagles nests in Georgia continues to look healthy.”

Sargent checks Georgia’s coastal counties, in WSAV’s viewing area, annually because they have the most nests, 35% of the state’s active nests, and the most potential development impact issues, DNR says. About half of the nests checked by the end of this season were in coastal counties.

DNR says that many factors have fueled the bald eagle’s recovery in recent years, but they still face threats.

The public is encouraged to report eagle nests here or by calling 478-994-1438.

Georgians can also help support bald eagle conservation by purahsing a DNR or new monarch butterfly license plate. Learn more here.

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