For the first time in 50 years, a nesting bald eagle pair was spotted on San Clemente Island, one of the islands in the Channel Islands chain off the coast of California. The sighting means that bald eagles have now returned to five out of the eight islands, a forward progress that has conservationists cheering after decades of recovery efforts.
Bald eagles were wiped out from the Channel Islands — and much of the lower 48 states — during the 1960s due to the widespread use of DDT, a pesticide that works its way up the food chain in increasing concentrations, and which weakens the shells of many bird species so that reproductive success is extremely low.
Along with this pair are 16 more breeding pairs and 14 chicks across the island chain. Though no chicks have been spotted with this pair on San Clemente, the sighting shows that the birds are expanding their range, and that is extremely good news according to the National Parks Service in a news release. "This news is very gratifying. I expect to see bald eagles return to all eight of the Channel Islands within a few years, which will mark yet another milestone in their successful recovery," said Dr. Peter Sharpe with the Institute for Wildlife Studies.
The pair is made up of a 10-year-old female released on Santa Cruz Island in 2004 as part of a bald eagle recovery program, and a 7-year-old male that hatched in an incubation facility on Santa Catalina Island and fostered in a nest at Twin Rocks. Bald eagles are a bird species that mate for life, and with a lifespan of up to 30 years, this couple could have a long and hopefully productive future ahead of them.
"This is good news for the continued recovery of the ecosystem of the Channel Islands and the Navy's ongoing interest in protecting the environment," said Capt. Christopher E. Sund, commanding officer of Naval Base Coronado, which balances responsibility for operations and training with wildlife management on San Clemente Island.
Bald eagles have made an amazing recovery in the lower 48 thanks to the dedicated efforts of conservationists. When celebrating the conservation success story of bald eagles in Chesapeake Bay last year, Elizabeth Shogren of NPR wrote, "Today more than 10,000 eagle pairs nest each year across the Lower 48, and many more in Alaska. And nowhere is their comeback more dramatic than along the James River, where they once again dominate the avian scene." There is little doubt that the conservationists who have worked for the last 50 years to bring bald eagles back in California hope to have the same results soon on the southern coast.
Along with bald eagles, peregrine falcons and brown pelicans have made a slow but successful recovery in California, though the iconic California condor is still suffering the effects of the banned pesticide.
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