For 15 years, I’ve been a part of the Channel Islands bald eagle restoration program. For all of us at the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS), this work has been by turns heartrending and joyous: while not every eaglet has survived to maturity, a majority have, and as more generations grow to rear their own offspring, the Channel Islands bald eagle population soars steadily higher.
This year, we’ve witnessed a different type of life cycle: that of the eagle cam, which has given thousands of Internet users an intimate look at the Channel Islands’ growing community of bald eagles.
From 2006-2010, eagle enthusiasts from all over the world tuned into the Pelican Harbor eagle cam to watch proud parents K-10 and K-26 hatch and raise their eaglets on Santa Cruz Island. Many of those same viewers logged onto the “Channel Islands Live!” discussion board, where they discussed the eagles’ progress and received updates from IWS scientists.
That camera gave those viewers—as well as project partners including the National Parks Service, the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program, The Nature Conservancy and the IWS—a lot of good memories (not to mention insight into local bald eagles that will improve restoration efforts). You can check out a few of their greatest hits here.
But the Pelican Harbor nest is empty this year, as K-10 and K-26 have relocated to a new nest about a mile away. (Their eaglets from previous years—A-49, A-64, A-68 and A-69—are still exploring the islands, traveling frequently between Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands.) The exact reason for that shift is unclear: eagles might switch nests for a variety of reasons that range from lessening parasite loads to occupying a more stable perch to simply preferring a change of scenery. Nature often changes its plans, and it’s not always easy to tell what wild bald eagles will do.
As a result, the Pelican Harbor camera has been decommissioned; the feed has now gone dark. But while we briefly lament the demise of the Pelican Harbor eagle cam, we also celebrate the birth of the Sauces camera. Last week, we repurposed our equipment to stream a feed from Sauces nest on Santa Cruz Island where eagles A-27 and A-40 are looking after an egg and a newborn eaglet.
We’ve set up the eagle cam not just for the benefit of eagle fans, but so that we can keep tabs on one of the greatest island restoration projects ever undertaken. The growing bald eagle population is the result of years of intense labor by personnel from IWS, the San Francisco Zoo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Conservancy and many other organizations.
And now that the Channel Islands bald eagles are returning—and now that we have a web feed for watching them—it’s time to once again celebrate new life.
Peter Sharpe, Ph.D., is a wildlife biologist with the Institute for Wildlife Studies.
(Image: Biologist Peter Sharpe with a juvenile bald eagle. Courtesy of IWS.)