America's most recognized wildlife symbol is thriving in Georgia.
Game managers say the state's bald eagle population is flourishing, with 2010's annual counts showing more nests and young than last year.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, 47 of the state's 159 counties had occupied bald eagle nests this year, with aerial surveys in January and March finding 135 nesting territories, 118 successful nests (where young survive until they can fly) and 187 young fledged.
"Each total topped 2009, when the statewide search revealed 128 occupied or active territories, 100 successful nests ... and 164 eaglets," the DNR reports.
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This year some eagles nested near landfills, indicating that like gulls and vultures, they can find a good food source there.
Coastal counties had the most nests: Chatham led with 15; Decatur, in southwest Georgia along Lake Seminole, followed with 12; Liberty with 10 and McIntosh with eight.
The number of Georgia nesting sites dropped in 2008, but "that might be attributed to fewer nests discovered or reported instead of an actual decline," the DNR said.
Residents who see an occupied nest that might have been missed may call 478-994-1438. Nests can be hard to find, even though they're typically about 5 feet wide. The eagles often use the same nests, in the tops oftall pine or cypress trees.
Eaglets leaving the nest are the same size as adults, but so dark brown they may look almost black.
"Bald eagles gain the characteristic white head and tail feathers at 4 to 5 years old. Many of the first-year young head north during their first summer.... Some return and most of Georgia’s eagles live here year-round," says the DNR.
Over the past 40 years, the bald eagle has recovered from near-extinction. It was removed from the federally threatened species list in August 2008. It still is protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Nests can be found across Georgia, including on the Chattahoochee River at Columbus. They're usually near major rivers or lakes where fish, turtles and other prey are plentiful.
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 four.
Lifespan: Bald eagles live 15-25 years in the wild, longer in captivity.