- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

LAKE OCONEE, Ga.

A helicopter, in search of bald eagle nests, flies through the early morning fog, swooping over farmhouses and sprawling forests toward the muddy banks of Lake Oconee.

Georgia state wildlife biologist Jim Ozier sits in the cockpit, scanning the ground for water sources and towering trees where the majestic birds typically nest. Suddenly, he spots a nest at the highest reaches of a loblolly pine, just a few feet from lake that sits near the midway point between Atlanta and Augusta.

Inside are two fuzzy eaglets, which Mr. Ozier estimates are probably 6 or 7 weeks old judging by their feathers.

“We’re always glad to see young,” he says.

That’s an understatement.

The bald eagle’s revival is one of the success stories of endangered species in the U.S. There were an estimated 100,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles in what would become the U.S. when European settlers arrived in North America, but the national bird came close to extinction in the 1960s, when fewer than 500 pairs were spotted in the continental U.S.

Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects the national eagle count for last year to pass 9,500 breeding pairs, not including Alaska, which has more than 40,000 eagles. The population explosion has federal officials considering whether to downgrade the national icon from its federally threatened status.

Even areas long thought of as off-limits to the majestic birds are showing signs of revival.

Wisconsin has become one of the most popular breeding grounds for the majestic birds. The state claimed barely 100 eagle nests in the 1970s. At last count, it boasted almost 1,000 enough to allow the state to export some pairs to other states.

In some areas, the population is growing so large and so fast that the eagles are spreading into urban areas. For the first time in a century, a nest was recently spotted in a suburb of Milwaukee, and the first bald eagle nest in 200 years was recently confirmed in Philadelphia.

In Georgia, where the number of nests ballooned from zero in the 1970s to 108 this year, scientists have seen a similar shift. Although most of the state’s bald eagles still typically build their nests near expansive lakes, Mr. Ozier has noticed a few have started to set up shop near smaller, man-made ponds near farms.

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