Restoration efforts for the bald eagle population on the Channel Islands are finally paying off: 20 breeding pairs reared 19 bald eagle chicks. The tally of chicks includes 11 from six nests on Santa Cruz Island, two from one nest on Santa Rosa Island, five from four nests on Santa Catalina Island, and one on San Clemente Island. New nest sites were discovered on Santa Rosa Island at East Point and on Santa Cruz Island at Yellowbanks. There are currently 60 bald eagles living on the islands now.
“This has been the best breeding season since I began working on the bald eagle restoration project over 21 years ago. The number of breeding pairs has increased from only three in 1997 to 20 this year,” said Dr. Peter Sharpe with the Institute for Wildlife Studies.
The disappearance of bald eagles on the Channel Islands occurred in the 1960s, due to DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, an insecticide) contamination, which birds of prey would be exposed to in the fish they ate. DDT impacted egg shells, making them so thin that they failed to hatch. Bald eagles were also hunted, as well as other falcons, to protect livestock. Their eggs were also collected, further disabling the reproductive cycle of bald eagles on the islands.
In 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, as the species was threatened with extinction nationwide. The bald eagle was also listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. DDT was banned by 1980, which led to the species’ resurgence.
In 2002, in an effort to restore the extinct population back to the Channel Islands National Park, juvenile bald eagles, approximately eight weeks old, were brought to and reared on the northern islands, thanks to funding by the Montrose Trustees Restoration Program and a partnership with the Institute of Wildlife Studies. By 2006, the park had brought a total of 61 bald eagles. In 2006, the first nest in 50 years appeared. By June 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species Act, though it is still threatened due to other manmade issues, such as lead poisoning from hunter-shot prey and collisions with vehicles and structures, plus the reduction of habitat. 2018 is a record year for offspring on the Channel Islands.
The Institute for Wildlife Studies has international reach, involved in conservation projects worldwide. It has been involved in bald eagle restoration on Catalina Island for nearly 40 years.
Montrose Settlements Restoration Program includes several agencies dedicated to restoring natural resources harmed by DDTs and PCBs released into the environment in southern California. The program is managed by staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Lands Commission, and California Department of Parks and Recreation. montroserestoration.noaa.gov
To view the bald eagles up close via live webcams provided by Explore Annenberg and the Institute for Wildlife Studies on Santa Catalina and Santa Cruz Island this year, visit explore.org or iws.org.