For the fifth time since 2006, a pair of bald eagle chicks hatched in the same nest by the same two eagles on Santa Cruz Island. The two fuzzy chicks, which weigh just a few ounces each, can be seen on the Channel Islands Live EagleCAM in their nest in Pelican Canyon.
It is hoped the eaglets, which hatched over Easter weekend, will continue to enhance a growing population of bald eagles throughout Channel Islands National Park. Historically, approximately 30 pairs of bald eagles have inhabited the northern islands but they were wiped out from DDT dumped offshore in the 1950s. The presence of the pesticides caused the raptors to lay thin-shelled eggs that were crushed during incubation.
In 2002, Montrose Chemical Corp. was ordered by a federal court to pay $140 million in restitution for dumping tons of DDT in the Palos Verdes Shelf off Santa Monica in the 1940s and ‘50s. The company was required to direct $40 million of the settlement toward restoring natural resources, and bald eagles were near the top of the list.
Coinciding with that settlement was the first of five releases of juvenile bald eagles on Santa Cruz Island through 2006, a joint effort by the National Park Service, the Institute for Wildlife Studies, The Nature Conservancy and others. In all, 60 bald eagles have been released on the largest of the Channel Islands. This year marks the first year that the first generation of native-born birds can reproduce.
“It’s amazing it all started in 2002,” Channel Islands National Park spokeswoman Yvonne Menard said. “But we’re still studying the impacts of DDT.”
Montrose dumped millions of tons of the pesticides into the ocean. Traces of the pesticide are more prevalent off Catalina Island where a sustainable bald eagle population has been hard to come by, so biologists are encouraged by the growing presence of eagles on the northern chain.
There are now 30 to 35 bald eagles that have remained in the national park and are reclaiming historic nesting habitat across the volcanic archipelago. More significant is the number of nesting pairs on the chain this spring. There are eight active pairs, seven on Santa Cruz and a pair on Santa Rosa Island. Of those pairs, four are confirmed with eggs in their nests.
One of those pairs is the first eaglet born on the islands since 1949. That bird is now paired up with another eagle somewhere near Fraser Point on the west end of Santa Cruz.
“There are a lot of questions for the long-term restoration,” Menard said. “But this is exciting news.”