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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 3:46 pm | Fair 67º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: Keeping an Eagle Eye on the Santa Cruz Island Eaglets

Have you viewed the eaglets on Santa Cruz Island? If you haven’t, tap over to the web cam posted on the Channel Islands National Park website for your own personal live “sights and sounds of the forest.” It’s a mesmerizing and joyful rite of spring.

I’ve been watching since the second chick’s hatching March 16. I anthropomorphize like crazy, amazed by the parents’ seeming patience, deliberation and vigilance.

The first day I watched, one parent (we’ll call her she) was sitting on the chicks when the other parent landed on a nearby branch. I couldn’t see his approach, but the alarm calls of nearby birds clued me in.

Bald eagles are marine eaters, but can easily and do occasionally pick off a bird (or an island fox) when they get the notion.

He wafted in and stuck his hard landing. She looked on with seeming disinterest, like “who are you?” He poked at an errant twig while she sat there another three minutes. Then she rose to her feet and stretched at the edge of the nest.

Without another word she took off. He padded around, not obviously checking the health of the chicks, and then snuggled into place over them. After a while he poked around under him, plying the chicks with bits of food.

Sometimes I’ve watched the wind came up, ruffling their feathers like a Hollywood star’s picture shoot. The large nest sways a little but seems as sturdy as a building.

The sitting parent tucks soft mulch-type material around himself, first a small mouthful and then larger globs. The nest is huge — perhaps six feet wide — and stocked with lots of building material. There is soft fibrous material in the center and room around the edge for each parent to open his wings for launch.

The first few days the chicks were scraggly looking newborns whose most prominent features were eagle eyes that focused waveringly on their nearby parent. They ignored each other.

Their cries were a little pathetic, barely audible over the sounds of the forest. Day by day they interacted a little more and started to fill out.

On day three, both chicks seemed eager to eat, but after a few tries (it wasn’t clear whether or not they were successful), they laid back down, exhausted by the task. One chick was significantly more active, moving around 180 degrees while the other was more interested in sleep.

I took the weekend off from voyeurism, touring the magnificent wildflowers on the Carrizo Plain instead. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help worrying about what was happening.

I know in years past chicks have suffered catastrophes, including the time a bald eagle rival came while both parents were gone and pushed the chicks out of the nest.

Monday morning, though, the little guys were fine. They looked sturdier and more insistent than when I left. The parent was feeding them long four- to five-inch strands of fresh kill, up from the one- or two-inch pieces on Friday. I would even venture to say they were starting to look cute, if just barely.

The situation seems so precarious to me — I can do nothing but watch and cheer — but the parents seem confident and relaxed. It’s this pair’s third attempt to raise a family, and this time they seem like naturals.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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