Channel Islands' Eagle Population Soars

Researchers are keeping an eye on A49, who is apparently ready to settle down

The bald eagles are back on the Channel Islands in numbers that haven't been seen in 50 years. And one chick in particular is a symbol of a recovery program's success.

It seems A49 -- the first bald eagle to hatch on the islands without human help since 1949 -- is dating. A49, now 4 years old, stayed on the island, and researchers said they've seen the bird in courtship behavior this season.

No nest has been found, but it won't be long before A49 starts to breed, bringing the recovery program full circle.

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.

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.

You can watch one of the nests on the Bald Eagle Webcam.

The recovery project began after chemicals contaminated the birds' food supply. All of the islands' bald eagles were wiped out by the early 1960s.

So far, the biggest problem involves the flight from the islands to the mainland. It's 18 miles to the nearest coastline, and some young birds who attempt the journey become exhausted because their flying skills are not adequately developed.

Annie Little, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, said the tired birds land in the water and can't get back up.

Little added that, so far, there have been no pesticide-related fatalities. But as they age, they'll fly farther and, possibly, come into contact with contaminants.

On Thursdays, biologists took two 8-week-old chicks from their nest on Santa Cruz. During the live webcast the birds were fitted with wing tags and radio and satellite transmitters.

They will be tracked so researchers can study the young birds.

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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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