Bald eagle populations are climbing in Georgia.

According to preliminary results, Georgia Department of Natural Resources aerial surveys in January and March documented 166 occupied nesting territories, 124 successful nests and 185 young fledged.

Those totals topped last year’s 163 nesting territories and 121 successful nests, while dropping slightly from 199 eaglets fledged. In 2011, there were 144 territories, 113 nests and 178 eaglets.

The number of bald eagle nests in Georgia has increased steadily, underscoring the rebound of our national bird from near-extinction through much of its range 40 years ago. Nests numbered in the single digits in Georgia when survey leader Jim Ozier started searching for them more than two decades ago.

This comeback was powered in part by Georgians who support the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund through their state income tax returns.  As this year’s tax deadline nears, those who haven’t filed are encouraged to contribute to the fund through the “Give Wildlife a Chance” state income tax checkoff.

Making contributions large or small through the checkoff – line 26 on Form 500 or line 10 on Form 500EZ – benefits the more than 1,000 Georgia plant and animal species listed as species of conservation concern, including bald eagles.

The large nests of these iconic raptors are showing up in new areas, including Jasper and Carroll counties this year, and more frequently in some coastal counties, such as Chatham, where Ozier documented six new nests for a county total of 25.

“It’s impressive. They’re really filling in the gaps there,” said Ozier, a Nongame Conservation Section program manager with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.

Although the number of young eagles statewide fell this year, Ozier said that change is not significant and fluctuations are expected.

The public is encouraged to let Ozier know about eagle nests they see, reporting them online (www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/eaglenest) or by phone (478-994-1438). These reports often lead to nests not monitored before. DNR works with landowners to help protect eagle nests on their property.

Bald eagles are no longer listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but they are protected by federal and state law.

Eagle surveys are part the DNR Nongame Section’s mission to conserve nongame wildlife – native animals not legally hunted or fished for – and native plants and natural habitats. The section receives no state appropriations for this work. The Wildlife Conservation Fund checkoff provides significant support, accounting for 12 percent of fund revenues in fiscal year 2012.

All checkoff contributions help. Georgians can deduct contributions from refunds or add them to payments. They can also give when filing electronically or through a tax preparer. Go to www.georgiawildlife.com/TaxCheckoff for details. Please consult a tax professional about deducting contributions.

Logo courtesy Georgia Department of Natural Resources

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