Encouraging news for rebounding Channel Islands bald eagle population
There haven't been so many bald eagle chicks on the Channel Islands in 50 years -- since chemicals contaminated their food supply and destroyed all of the majestic birds on the island chain off the Southern California coast.
Fifteen chicks have hatched this year on three of the eight islands -- Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and Santa Catalina -- bringing to 36 the number of chicks that have survived since recovery efforts started in 2002, said Yvonne Menard of the National Park Service.
Bald eagles disappeared from the Channel Islands by the early 1960s due to human impacts, primarily pollution. Millions of pounds of the deadly pesticide DDT and other chemicals were dumped in the ocean off the Palos Verdes Peninsula between the 1940s and 1970s.
The chemicals caused bald eagles to lay thin-shelled eggs that either dehydrate or break in the nest.
The recovery project is being funded by the chemical companies and cities that dumped the pesticide.
So far, the biggest problem for the young birds from the Channel Islands has been trying to fly from the islands to the mainland, said Annie Little, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist.
It is 18 miles from Santa Cruz Island to shore, Menard said. The young birds, which haven't developed their flying skills yet, get tired, land in the water and can't get back up, Little said.
As the birds age and get stronger, they will venture farther and may come in contact with higher concentrations of contaminants, Little said. But so far, there have been no pesticide fatalities.
Eagles start reproducing when they are 4 or 5 years old, so it won't be long before biologists know if the eagles hatched on the island since 2002 will rebound for future generations. Until now, all the chicks have been offspring of birds brought to the islands as adults from Alaska and Northern California.
To help keep track of the birds, biologists last Thursday took two 8-week-old chicks out of their Pelican Harbor nest on Santa Cruz Island. The chicks are about two weeks away from leaving the nest.
During a live webcast, biologists banded the pair, and attached wing tags and radio and satellite transmitters.
Little said the hatching in 2006 of a bald eagle chick marked as A49 was a milestone because it was the first chick to hatch on the islands without human help since 1949.
But an even bigger milestone is coming.
A49, now 4 years old, has stayed on the island and has been seen in courtship behavior this season. No nest has been found, Little said. But it won't be long before the chick starts to breed, bringing the program full circle.
-- Sue Manning, Associated Press
Photo: A bald eagle feeds its young in a nest on the Channel Islands in an undated photo. Credit: Kevin White, Full Frame Productions / Associated Press