Bald eagles were once a common sight on the Channel Islands, off the coast of Los Angeles. However, they disappeared in the mid-1900s due to widespread DDT contamination of their food supply. Chemical companies flushed the pesticide into the ocean through the Los Angeles sewer system until it was banned in the early 1970s.
For more than 20 years, scientists tried to re-establish the birds on Santa Catalina Island. But the lingering effects of DDT made the birds’ eggshells too thin to hatch without human intervention.
An Inspiring Comeback
A program was initiated through the National Park Service in 2002, with funding in part from the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program and research efforts by the Institute for Wildlife Studies, to re-establish bald eagles on the northern Channel Islands.
Sixty-one chicks — around 12 per year — were reintroduced to Santa Cruz Island during the five-year program. The first group of eagles reached breeding age in 2006, and in that year one female produced a chick with a male from the Catalina Island reintroduction efforts.
Two chicks were born on Santa Cruz Island in 2006 — the first wild-born chicks to hatch anywhere on the Channel Islands in more than 50 years — and more chicks have hatched in successive years. The 2006 and 2007 births gave biologists hope that DDT levels in the birds’ eggs had sufficiently declined and that bald eagles would once again thrive on the Channel Islands. As a result of rebounding populations on the mainland, the bald eagle was de-listed from its endangered species status in June 2007.
Thanks to the re-establishment efforts of our partners, several bald eagle pairs have been nesting successfully on Santa Cruz Island for the first time in over half a century. In fact, the 2010 breeding season was the most successful season yet — a record-setting 15 eaglets joined the ranks of Channel Island bald eagle alums.
Eagles Go Live
Due to increasing public interest in the bald eagles’ historic comeback, a web cam was installed on Santa Cruz Island. The web cam on the Pelican Harbor nest was launched in 2006 by the Ventura County Office of Education, the National Park Service and the Institute for Wildlife Studies. The nest is located on the portion of Santa Cruz Island owned by The Nature Conservancy.
Each spring, as part of the Channel Islands Bald Eagle Restoration Project conducted by the Institute for Wildlife Studies, the web cam broadcasts live streaming video of the eagles' nesting activities. This unique technology offers educational opportunities for students, teachers and the general public — giving viewers the rare chance to observe the nest daily and learn firsthand about the fascinating life stages of these magnificent birds.
While the Channel Islands Bald Eagle Restoration Project has proved a resounding success, each season can bring occasional sorrows. The somber reality is that 50 percent of all wild eagles don’t survive in their first year.
But there has been much to celebrate, too. In 2006, this flagship effort allowed thousands of people to witness a chick emerge from its shell early in the morning on April 13. In subsequent months, viewers watched as the chick grew, was banded by biologists and even took its first flight.
One thing is certain: These historic births, which continue to captivate eagles’ fans around the world, serve as important milestones in The Nature Conservancy’s multi-partner program to restore Santa Cruz Island’s biological richness for future generations.