A family of bald eagles has made Pike their home and their young fledgling is getting ready to take its first flight from its nest in the Blanton Mill Road area. It’s not the first time bald eagles have been spotted in the Williamson and Hollonville area, but this time the couple’s nest and offspring were documented on Flanders Farms by the Wildlife Conservation Section of the Department of Natural Resources.
“In January 2021, guys fishing at the lake took a picture of two adult eagles and a trail camera caught photos of three juveniles. There were five eagles who stayed in the area until May and last fall, three adult eagles came back to stay from October to December,” said Frank Flanders who is careful to provide protection for this year’s eagle family.
He said an adult eagle was seen picking up sticks and flying them to a nest earlier this year and a DNR biologist flew over their nest to map and document the eagles and their offspring. He said the young eagle was three weeks old at that time. Now, the eagle’s parents no longer share the giant bowl-shaped nest with it as the eaglet readies to fly for the first time.
“Soon, it will start jumping and flapping and then it will hop/fly from limb to limb and then from tree to tree before it takes its first flight. We’re not sure of its gender, but if it’s a male, it could fly as far as the Great Lakes and if it’s a female, it might stay here through fall and may keep returning here each year until it is old enough to have babies in four to five years,” said Flanders.
Right now the eaglet eagle has brown and black feathers but it will gradually get white feathers around its head and tail until it has a pure white head and neck at around five and a half years old.
Flanders said the adult eagles were nicknamed Calvin and Emily after two of the DNR biologists who often visit the farm and the young eagle was nicknamed Charlie after the head biologist. The sex of the eaglet is unknown at this time. A female eagle is bigger than the male of the same age and has a different shaped head with rougher feathers when compared to the male. Flanders said there is another eagle family nesting in Peachtree City and he hopes the young eagles will eventually become mates so they can develop a larger population in Pike County and middle Georgia.
The eagles enjoy living on the 2,500-acre Flanders Farms property along with many other wild species, including large alligators have been reported in the lakes and foxes, coyotes, bobcats and of course deer, turkey and other game animals such as fox squirrels.
DNR eagle biologist Bob Sargent flew over the Pike County nest in a helicopter to document the nest in March.
“We locate and monitor active nests and assess eagle reproductive success as an index to health of the species’ population in the state. I have only found two to three others in the area. This is not surprising, as eagle nests in Georgia are most abundant where there are large bodies of water such as along the coast, along major reservoirs such as Lake Seminole, and along wide-channeled rivers bordered by mature pine trees in the Coastal Plain. About one-third of the active nests are found within 20 miles of the coast,” he said.
Sargent said just as important as the number of nests are the successful development of the young eagles. A full report on the outcome of the 2022 bald eagle nesting survey season will be released later this month.
“This year we documented over 220 nest territories. That is a far cry from the 1970s when only one successful nest was recorded in Georgia during the entire decade. It’s a testament to how successful protections under the Endangered Species Act were in allowing the species to recover,” he said. “It appears that there have been at least 200 occupied nest territories in Georgia every year since 2015. We first recorded 100 plus nests in 2007, so the number of nests doubled in just eight seasons. So, 200 has become the standard we hope to see, but the nest success rate is equally – if not more so – important. In an average year, 70-80 percent of bald eagle nests fledge at least one eaglet. If that rate noticeably drops then it could be cause for concern. In other words, the excitement that comes from recording 200 plus active nests in the state is greatly tarnished if an unusual number of them fail to fledge young. On the coast this year we recorded 73 active nests, which is average and therefore encouraging, but only 47 percent of them succeeded. That’s worrisome. It appears that the main cause was avian influenza, which was likely transmitted from sick or dead wintering waterfowl to eagles that scavenged the carcasses. The good news is that we have not recorded another influenza case in a Georgia eagle since mid-March.”
Bald eagles and their nests are protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and as a threatened species under Georgia state law. They are also protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects all bird species native to the U.S.
“Obviously, eagles should not be harmed and their nest trees should not be cut down, but they also should not be harassed which can happen when people get too close to them while they are feeding or approach their active nests or fly drones near nests. Federal guidelines stipulate that you should observe active nests from afar (at least 330 feet and further if eagles in the nest react to your presence), that tree removal, construction, road building, and other types of major disturbances should not occur within 660 feet of an active nest during the October to May nest season. In fact, the removal of overstory trees within 330 feet of a nest—active or not—is discouraged at any time,” said Sargent. “If you observe an eagle, especially if it is sick or dead, please report your sighting to Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. You can find a report form, contact information, and the story of eagles in Georgia at GeorgiaWildlife.com/bald-eagle. Many of the nests we monitor each year were first found and reported by citizens. In fact, some private citizens assist DNR by monitoring nests and providing observations. Just because you have a nest on your property does not mean its presence will necessarily prevent you from cutting timber, building a house, and doing other activities. Call DNR at 478-994-1438 to discuss the nest protection guidelines and to learn about options for doing many of the things you desire to do. If you would like to contribute to eagle conservation, consider buying a license plate for your vehicle that features the eagle with the U.S. flag or the monarch butterfly with the Georgia aster. Most importantly, the best way that you can help eagles and other non-game wildlife is by teaching children to take an interest in and care about nature.”