California Eagles: Flying High

Peter Sharpe, Ph.D., is a wildlife biologist with the Institute for Wildlife Studies. Read his previous post on bald eagles in the Channel Islands.

It’s been a memorable nesting season for the California’s Channel Islands bald eagles and the scientists who care for them. Hopefully you’ve been following along on the eagle cam and have been able to watch natural history unfold.

In 2010, we saw Santa Rosa Island hatch its first eaglets since 1950. This year also marked the first time native-born birds have reproduced in decades. Our reintroduction project, which began in 2002, is starting to return big dividends.

The numbers are impressive. We had 13 nesting couples—a new record—throughout the islands. On Catalina Island, nine chicks hatched and fledged. On Santa Rosa Island, two chicks hatched and fledged.

And on Santa Cruz Island, where The Nature Conservancy is involved in a sweeping effort to restore a unique and vital ecosystem, four chicks hatched and fledged. You may already be acquainted with two of them, eaglets A-68 and A-69, through the eagle cam.

These eaglets are crucial for the local bald eagle population, but they’re also hastening the recovery of the Channel Islands. Bald eagles are a top-level predator in the region, so their presence is crucial to maintaining healthy populations of other fish and bird species.

The fact that bald eagles are thriving means that the islands are also growing healthier. It’s an indication that there are plenty of prey species nearby and that the region’s waters, which were once heavily polluted, are now less contaminated.

Conservationists have been very active in the Channel Islands throughout this nesting season, but we’ve been supported and encouraged by an equally committed bunch of amateur enthusiasts from all over. Perhaps you were one of the many participants in the Channel Islands eagles discussion forum or one of the thousands of viewers who tuned into the ongoing action broadcast by the eagle cam.

If so, we thank you for your interest and investment in one of California’s greatest conservation success stories.

The Pelican Harbor eaglets are growing up fast and will soon live completely independently of their parents. Once A-68 and A-69 have reached maturity in four or five years, they will hopefully return to the Channel Islands to start families of their own and maybe set their own records. Until then, we’ll be monitoring their progress and watching new generations of bald eagles soar above the Channel Islands.

(Photo: Channel Islands eaglet. Source: J. Spickler)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


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