SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Chatham County is No. 1 in the state again for the number of bald eagle nests found countywide, with a tally of 27 nests this year, wildlife officials say.
That's up from 22 last year, also a state high.
Chatham County's total included a rare ground nest discovered on Cabbage Island, southwest of Tybee Island.
That was the first known ground nest of a bald eagle recorded in Georgia.
Three to four other nests were either substantially damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Irma last fall.
However, 11 new nests were found, including five on the coast.
Earlier this year, Bob Sargent of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources checked for nests by helicopter. He counted nearly 110 eagle nesting territories in the six coastal counties and an area bounded roughly by interstates 16 and 85 and the South Carolina line. Those nests fledged an estimated 127 young.
Chatham County, with plenty of tall pine trees for nesting and abundant access to fish-filled waters, has topped the list for years, even when the entire state is surveyed.
Despite the birds' apparent success, conserving eagles is still important, said Sargent, a program manager with DNR's Nongame Conservation Section. Bald eagles are state-listed as threatened and remain a priority in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a guiding strategy to restore and protect native species and natural habitats.
Nearly 30 years ago, the Southeastern recovery plan for bald eagles set a goal of 20 nests for the state. DNR documented more than 10 times that amount last year, when Sargent found a state-record 218 active nests. That was the third straight year the total topped 200.
Many factors have fueled the bald eagle's recovery: a U.S. ban on DDT use in 1972, habitat improvements after enactment of the federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts, protection through the Endangered Species Act, increased public awareness, restoration of local populations through release programs, and forest regrowth.
The county with the second-most bald eagle nests was McIntosh County, with 13.