Eagles are magnificent birds to observe, with wingspans larger than adult humans and heights equivalent to that of children. They soar through the sky searching for food with their extraordinary vision, and watching them hunt is an unforgettable experience. It’s surreal to witness such a massive creature diving from the sky and capturing large prey. In the USA, there are only four species of eagles, and Georgia is home to the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle. Learn more about where to spot them and their lifestyle in Georgia by reading this article.
1. Bald Eagle
- Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Life span: 20-30 years
- Size: 2.5 to 3 feet (0.7 to 0.9 meters)
- Weight: 6.6 to 13,8 lbs (3 to 6.3 kg)
- Wingspan: 66 to 96 in (165 to 244 cm)
- Status: Least Concern
The Bald Eagle is the national bird and symbol of the United States. Known for its majestic soaring and spectacular hunting techniques, it also feeds on carrion and steals prey from other birds. The 20th century brought challenges for the Bald Eagle, nearly causing it to disappear from the U.S., but it has since made a strong recovery and is now thriving in the country it represents.
Found near bodies of water, the Bald Eagle can be found throughout the United States, from Alaska to northern Mexico, and in most of Canada. It has a dark brownish body, with a white head and tail, and a yellowish beak. The name “Bald” comes from the Old English word “piebald,” meaning two-coloured, not because its head lacks feathers.
The Bald Eagle is a year-round resident in Georgia, but the population increases during the winter months when eagles from the northern United States and Canada migrate south to escape the colder weather.
The Bald Eagle is a monogamous species, meaning that they mate for life and form strong pair bonds. They typically return to the same nest site year after year, and the nest is built and maintained by both the male and female. The nest is usually located in a tall tree near water and can be very large, measuring up to 9 feet in diameter and weighing as much as 2000 pounds. Bald Eagles use twigs, branches, moss, and grass to build the nest, and will continue to add to it each year, making it bigger and bigger.
Bald eagles in Georgia usually lay eggs in late winter or early spring, typically 1-3 eggs per clutch. Both male and female take turns incubating the eggs which will take about 35 days. When the eggs hatch, both male and female also take turns feeding and watching out for the chicks. The chicks fledge, or leave the nest, around 12-14 weeks of age.
The Bald Eagle is an opportunistic carnivore, and its diet can vary depending on the availability of prey around its environment. They use their sharp talons and powerful beak to capture prey, and their keen eyesight allows them to spot prey from great distances, especially when hunting over water.
In Georgia, fish make up a significant portion of their diet, especially in the coastal areas of the state where they are commonly found near large bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. They also feed on waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, as well as small mammals like raccoons, muskrats, and squirrels. They also eat reptiles and amphibians, and opportunistically take other birds, such as ospreys, herons, and gulls.
Bald Eagles are known to adapt their diet to the availability of food, depending on the time of year and location. In the winter when the water is frozen over, they might feed more on small mammals and waterfowl, while in the summer when fish are more abundant, fish will make up a larger portion of their diet. Bald Eagles are also known to scavenge on carrion, such as dead fish and animals, when the natural food sources are low.
In the 18th century, the population of Bald Eagles in the USA was estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000 individuals. However, by the 1950s, there were only 412 pairs left in the United States. Many factors contributed to the decline of the Bald Eagle population, but the rate of decline accelerated in the 20th century. In the 1920s, it was believed that Bald Eagles were stealing young lambs from farmers and kidnapping children, leading to the legal and illegal shooting of 70,000 individuals.
One of the main factors contributing to their decline was the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, which became extremely popular in the 20th century. DDT was able to biomagnify in the food chains, with the Bald Eagle at the top. When DDT enters the bird, it severely affects the bird’s ability to make eggshells, causing the eggs to collapse under the weight of the adult birds when brooding, thus preventing reproduction.
Protection of the species began in 1819 with the Migratory Bird Treaty and continued with the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited the commercial trapping and killing of the birds. Further restrictions were added in 1962 and 1972. In 1972, DDT was banned in the USA, and since then the population of Bald Eagles has been on a steady increase, with an estimated population of around 300,000 individuals in the USA today.
Where to look for Bald Eagle
The best places to look for Bald Eagles in Georgia are areas near large bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and coastlines. The coastal regions of Georgia, particularly near the Savannah River, the Altamaha River, and the Okefenokee Swamp are known to have a high concentration of Bald Eagles. These areas provide the eagles with a rich food source of fish and other aquatic animals, as well as suitable nesting sites in tall trees near the water.
Another good place to spot Bald Eagles in Georgia is in the northern part of the state, around the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, where the eagles can be found year-round. Also, the state parks such as the George L. Smith State Park, or the Mistletoe State Park are great places to spot Bald Eagles.
Generally, the best time to see Bald Eagles is during the winter months when they are more active and visible, and when eagles from the northern United States and Canada migrate south to escape the colder weather.
2. Golden Eagle
- Scientific name: Aquila chrysaetos
- Life span: 30 years
- Size: 33 inches (83 cm)
- Weight: 6.4 to 13.2 lb (2.9 to 6 kg)
- Wingspan: 70 to 90 in (180 to 230 cm)
- Status: Least Concern
The Golden Eagle is a majestic raptor found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, including America, Europe, and Asia. They are mostly dark golden-brown in colour, which is where they get their name. They are known for their distinct V-shaped wing position when soaring. They primarily hunt small mammals in remote, open areas such as grasslands, steppes, and mountainous regions. The Golden Eagle holds a significant cultural importance in many Native American tribes and is revered for its courage and strength. People who possessed its feathers were believed to have been blessed by its presence.
Golden Eagles are not a common breeding species in Georgia and their nesting behaviour there is not well-studied. However, Golden Eagles do breed in the south-eastern United States, and their nesting behaviour is similar to that of the Bald Eagles.
Golden Eagles are monogamous, meaning that they mate for life and will make deep connections with eachother. They typically return to the same nest site year after year, and the nest is built and maintained by both the male and female. The nest is usually located in a tall tree or on a cliff, and can be very large, measuring up to 6 feet across and 4 feet deep. Golden Eagles use twigs, branches, moss, and grass to build the nest, and will continue to add to it each year, making it bigger and bigger.
Golden Eagles in Georgia usually lay eggs in late winter or early spring, typically 1-3 eggs per clutch. Both male and female take turns incubating the eggs which takes about 42 days. When the eggs hatch, both male and female also take turns feeding and watching out for the chicks. The chicks fledge, or leave the nest, around 10-12 weeks of age.
Golden Eagles are not commonly found in Georgia and are considered a rare visitor in the state. They are more likely to be found in the western and northern parts of the state and in the mountain ranges. Their nesting behaviour may vary depending on the location and the availability of food in the area.
Golden Eagles are opportunistic hunters, and their diet can vary greatly depending on the availability of prey where they reside. In Georgia, their diet consists primarily of small mammals such as squirrels, rabbits and even raccoons. They also prey on small reptiles and birds such as ducks, coots, and grebes, but these items are less frequently found in their diet.
A study conducted in the western part of Georgia found that Golden Eagles primarily fed on mammals, such as rabbits and squirrels, accounting for over 70% of their diet. Birds made up around 15% of their diet and reptiles and other prey made up the remaining 15%.
Golden Eagles are skilled hunters and are able to catch both live prey as well as scavenging on carrion. They use their sharp talons and powerful beak to capture prey, and their keen eyesight allows them to spot prey from great distances. The eagle’s diet may vary depending on the location, the time of year, and the availability of food in the area. It’s worth noting that Golden Eagles are not commonly found in Georgia, and their diet in the state may be different from other regions where they are more common.
Like the Bald Eagle, the Golden Eagle also faced a decline in population in North America during the 20th century due to hunting and exposure to the pesticide DDT. Today, it is estimated that there are around 30,000 individuals remaining in the United States, with a stable or slightly decreasing population trend. The Golden Eagles can be found in most states. In 1940, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed, which prohibited commercial trapping and killing of the birds. Further restrictions were added in 1962 and 1972. The DDT was banned in the USA in 1972, which helped to recover the population of Golden Eagles.
Where to look for Golden Eagle
The best places to look for Golden Eagles in Georgia are typically in the northern and western parts of the state, as well as in the mountain ranges. The Appalachian Mountains and the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests are known to have a small population of Golden Eagles, and these areas provide the eagles with a rich food source of small mammals.
Other good places to spot Golden Eagles in Georgia are the state parks, such as the Vogel State Park, and the Unicoi State Park, as well as the Wildlife Management Areas such as the Rich Mountain WMA, and the Towns County WMA.
Keep in mind that Golden Eagles are considered a rare visitor in Georgia, and their population is not as abundant as the Bald Eagles. The best time to spot them is during the winter months when they are more active and visible, and when eagles from the northern United States and Canada migrate south to escape the colder weather.
Eagles like the Golden and Bald Eagles are revered and have a long history of reverence in American Indian traditions and religion. Even today in modern USA, the birds are still looked upon with great respect and pride.
Eagles have been hunted because of their perceived threat to livestock for centuries. They have also faced many other dangers like indirect poisoning, trapping and habitat destruction, making some of the species close to extinction during the 20th century. Collisions with cars, buildings and towers are still a large threat to many birds of prey like the Golden and Bald Eagles. In recent years, there has been an increase in eagle sightings in Georgia, especially of Golden Eagles, hinting that the state is becoming more and more a common place for eagle to spend the winter.
Eagles are fascinating to watch as they float through the air or perch on tree tops. They are often the highlight of a bird watching trip, even if they’re common where they’re spotted.