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about eagles...

Sunday, January 22, 2017
...a wealth of info. from the field trip a week ago when I went to southwest Georgia to actually see them. Fortunately the man who was retired from the DNR had a spotting scope with a long lens and set it up for us to see one roosting in a tree. Reportedly a male, that appeared to be inches away. Huge, impressive, intimidating, resplendent with white feathered head.

This man, we will call 'Jim', now works for Southern Companies/Georgia Power, is a life long student of eagles. He was employed with the state for years, and now seems to be doing pretty much the same thing as a power company employee. I am guessing serving as an advocate for the birds, directing the huge multi-state corporation in ways to help protect and preserve.  He said when he started out in his position with Department of Natural Resources, there were reportedly ten nesting pairs of eagles. And though diligent study, following up on reports, has observed  250 documented nests in the state, as opposed to only 2 or 3 in 1978. Most nests are along the coast and major rivers, where the birds would support progeny primarily through fishing.

He had a number of photos taken over the years, doing periodic census of eagles and their young. Reporting that some nests used would easily weigh a ton with yearly improvements the birds would make before sitting on fertilized eggs to hatch. You might wonder: how do they know about weight? He said when the trees die, and eventually blow down they have collected nests to evaluate. The birds always start building in living trees, usually pines, but over time the nest enlarges to actually become a burden for the tree, plus pines are notorious as being easy to tip in strong wind. Shallow rooted, with upper branches reportedly acting like sails on tall ships, catching the wind and eventually falling.

Want more info.? This very knowledgeable man said that the area where we were last Saturday had more eagles 'hanging out' than any where in the southeastern US. They were nationally listed as 'endangered' in 1967. Decline in population was due to predators, nest robbing/stealing eggs, environmental factors like DDT, people shooting them for sport. Improvement in numbers due to ban on DDT, Clean Air Act, Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" raising awareness, protection of habitat. About one-hundred eagles were released in Georgia from other states over a number of years, either captive births or taken as young from nests elsewhere, dramatically increasing number of nesting pairs and reproduction.

One of the most interesting bits of trivia from the talk: turtle shells are often found as refuse in nests. Apparently the parents will catch turtles and take them back to the  fledglings, give them the amphibians to pry them apart. Possibly a toy for a young eagle? Another interesting fact: the federal government will reimburse ranchers in the western states for livestock killed by predators. Our tour guide said White Oak Farms is having difficulties in their efforts to get compensated for all the livestock destroyed as 'easy pickings' by local raptors.

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