Georgia bald eagle census shows soaring population

Georgia’s bald eagle population has soared since last year, according to an annual statewide census released Monday.

Georgia’s bald eagle population has soared since last year, according to an annual statewide census released Monday, but a neurological disorder that has killed scores of the birds at Thurmond Lake continues to be a problem.


According to preliminary results, Department of Natural Resources aerial surveys in January and March documented 158 occupied nesting territories, 116 successful nests and 190 young eagles fledged.

All three totals are up from last year’s 142 nesting territories, 111 successful nests and 175 eaglets, said Jim Ozier, the nongame conservation section program manager for DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.

New eagle nesting areas this year include the campus of Berry College near Rome and a rural Piedmont Georgia farm that is not near a major reservoir or river, Ozier said.

Most of Georgia’s occupied eagle habitat lies in coastal regions or along major rivers and reservoirs.

Thurmond Lake on the Savannah River, with undeveloped, wooded shorelines and tall trees, has attracted eagles for decades.

A condition known as avian vacuolar myelinopathy has killed dozens of eagles at the reservoir since the disorder was first identified in the mid-1990s, not long after the invasive aquatic weed hydrilla was discovered near a Lincoln County boat ramp. Several dead eagles were recovered at the lake last fall and winter.

AVM is believed to be caused by unusual algae that grow on the dense mats of hydrilla that are popular feeding sites for migrating waterfowl and small aquatic birds called coots.

Because coots feed heavily on hydrilla and are often eaten by bald eagles, the small birds play a major role in AVM outbreaks.

Scientists are exploring what can be done to combat AVM. A possible approach is using grass carp or herbicides, or both, to manage the submerged aquatic vegetation that is host for the apparently toxic algae.

Georgia’s eagle program is supported, in part, through the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund, which allows taxpayers to contribute $2 or more on their state tax return.

The public can let Ozier know about any eagle nests they see, reporting them online at or by calling (478) 994-1438. These reports often lead to nests not monitored before. State officials also work with landowners to help protect eagle nests on their property.



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