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December 18, 2008

S.C. Bald Eagle numbers continue to increase

The bald eagle population in South Carolina continues to increase, according to Midwinter Eagle Survey results from 2008.

This year, Midwinter Eagle Survey participants recorded 601 bald eagles, which included 514 adult bald eagles, 84 immature bald eagles and one golden eagle. This figure was up from last year’s tally of 564. Some 94 percent of the adult eagles counted during the survey were nesting pairs, meaning they are resident breeders in South Carolina. The nesting population in South Carolina has been increasing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year.

Despite new emerging diseases, such as Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy (AVM) and increasing management challenges associated with widespread, rapid coastal development, the South Carolina bald eagle population continues to expand and is now a conspicuous component of the state’s bird life.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coordinates the national Midwinter Eagle Survey, which is entering its 30th consecutive year with upcoming surveys slated to run between Dec. 31 and Jan. 14. Each state organizes volunteers to conduct surveys and site-specific summaries of bald eagle observations. South Carolina’s survey efforts, coordinated by Charlotte Hope, a wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), have been a product of many individuals, bird clubs, as well as state and federal agencies. The survey uses Standard Survey Routes to ensure greater consistency among years. The survey seeks to determine the winter distribution of bald eagles nationwide, as well as identify previously unknown areas of important wintering habitat.

More than 94 participants were involved in South Carolina’s efforts in the Midwinter Eagle Survey during 2008, and completed more than 2,000 miles of monitoring 36 standardized routes throughout the state.

The DNR participates in the Midwinter Eagle Survey for several reasons. The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of DNR conducts aerial surveys of eagle nesting areas and standardized boat surveys of major rivers throughout the coastal plain during the survey period. The DNR monitors wintering eagles from northern populations and uses survey information to locate new breeding areas. The data obtained provide a more succinct state and national assessment. According to Hope, the surveys have been an important tool in monitoring the recovery of eagles in South Carolina, and they provide the only monitoring of juvenile bald eagles.

The Midwinter Eagle Survey was initiated in 1979 to index the recovery of bald eagles, which were then federally listed as endangered. In 2007, the bald eagle was delisted from the Endangered Species Act. However, the bald eagle still receives protection under the Federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, as well as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. DNR will continue to monitor nesting activity in South Carolina as well as document causes of sick, injured and dead eagles.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.

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