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Bald Eagles Return to Historic Home

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Date: June 2, 2005
Contact: Yvonne Menard, 805-658-5725

Today, seven juvenile bald eagles will take their first trip to Santa Cruz Island as part of a five-year feasibility study to re-establish bald eagles on the Northern Channel Islands, following a 40-year absence related to exposures to chemical contaminants.

The seven birds, along with three others released later this summer, will acclimate in a “hack tower” for about a month prior to taking their first flight. During that time, the birds’ feeding habits and physical health will be monitored daily via solar-powered remote video cameras and one-way glass in the hack towers. Once released, radio and GPS transmitters will be attached to allow biologists to track the birds’ dispersal.

Since 2002, biologists from the Institute for Wildlife Studies have released 34 bald eagles on Santa Cruz Island. Of those released, approximately 20 eagles remain on the Northern Channel Islands. They have been joined by two additional bald eagles that have flown in from Santa Catalina Island, a southern Channel Island. Some of the released eagles have been reported on the mainland, and have traveled as far as Oregon and Montana.

In the past year, biologists recaptured four released birds to obtain blood samples in order to examine DDT and PCB contaminant levels. Additionally, they collected blood and feather samples to gather information about the eagles’ diet in an effort to better determine sources of DDT in their prey. Results of the contaminant monitoring are expected later this summer.

When the eagles reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years of age, they will be followed closely to see whether they breed successfully on their own. The outcome of breeding will determine whether the environment is clean enough to support self-sustaining bald eagles.

This feasibility study is part of a larger effort to restore natural resources affected by millions of pounds of DDT and PCB pollutants dumped into the ocean off the coast of Los Angeles from the 1940s to the 1970s. The restoration effort is funded by settlement money from the polluters, and administered by the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program (MSRP).

Greg Baker, Program Manager for MSRP said “Longstanding efforts to re-establish breeding bald eagles farther south on Santa Catalina Island have not succeeded because ongoing contamination from past discharges of DDT still impairs their ability to reproduce.”

“The hope is that bald eagles placed in the Northern Channel Islands, farther from the source of contaminants, will breed successfully and create a stronghold for the eventual recovery of these birds throughout all of the Channel Islands,” Channel Islands Superintendent Russell Galipeau, added.

Bald eagles are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but have been proposed for delisting due to substantial recovery of the species on the mainland. On the Channel Islands, however, once a stronghold for bald eagles, birds have not recovered on their own.

The National Park Service and The Nature Conservancy co-own Santa Cruz Island and support the reintroduction of bald eagles as part of an island-wide restoration program that includes saving island foxes, relocating golden eagles, and eliminating non-native feral pigs from the island.

For more information, please visit Montrose Settlements Restoration Program.

Did You Know?

Bechers Bay coastline on Santa Rosal Island

Although the park is within 60 miles of 18 million people, it is home to 175 miles of pristine undeveloped coastline.