Inspiration Point, Anacapa Island

View of 3 islands in blue water with yellow flowers in the foreground.
Inspiration Point

Tim Hauf,

Quick Facts

Scenic View/Photo Spot

For your safety, please remain well away from cliff edges.

The 1.5-mile, round trip hike from the visitor center, reveals one of the best views in the park. Inspirational even on a foggy day.

A cool, salty mist fills the air at Inspiration Point. Graceful gulls and pelicans soar above the foaming waves that surge across the narrow, rocky strait separating East and Middle Anacapa. Seven different species of marine birds nest on Anacapa, including western gulls, California brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, Brandt's cormorants, pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, and Xantus' murrelets. Twenty-two different species of land birds breed on the island and many other birds stop over during migration.

The western gull rookery on East Anacapa is one of the main breeding colonies on the Channel Islands. Gulls have a surprisingly high chick mortality rate, as much as sixty percent. Anacapa's isolation and freedom from predators such as foxes and nonnative rats are crucial for these seabirds to successfully breed and rear their young.

On the north slopes of West Anacapa, California brown pelicans typically nest and raise their young from January through October. In fact, West Anacapa has the largest and most consistently used brown pelican nesting colony on the West Coast of the United States. Brown pelicans will abandon their nests if disturbed, leaving the eggs and chicks defenseless against predators such as gulls and ravens. A serious disturbance can cause an entire colony to be abandoned. For this reason Anacapa's isolation is a critical factor in the successful nesting of these seabirds. Except for the beach at Frenchy's Cove, West Anacapa is designated as a Research Natural Area and is closed to the public.

From Inspiration Point you can return by the same trail or follow the longer route that loops through the lower terrace. Either way, you will experience Anacapa's unique beauty. You will also notice how isolation has allowed endemic species such as island morning glory and live-forever to flourish on the island.

Today the populations of harbor seals, sea lions, and other sea mammals are recovering from the massive hunts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The spread of alien plants such as iceplant and European grasses, as well as increased erosion along the trails, continues to threaten Anacapa's natural resources.

Anacapa Island's unique resources were first recognized in 1938, when the island was proclaimed a national monument. The protection was reaffirmed and strengthened in 1980 when Anacapa was included in the newly established Channel Islands National Park. The National Park Service is preserving the island's native plant and animal communities and its historical and archeological features for future generations to study and enjoy.

More Seabird Information

The Channel Islands are vital habitat for seabirds and shorebirds, providing essential nesting and feeding grounds for 99% of seabirds in southern California and important wintering areas and stopover points for shorebirds. Thirty shorebird species have recorded, including snowy plovers, willets, wandering tattlers, whimbrels, black turnstones, and sanderlings. Twelve species of seabirds depend on the rich marine resources and the isolation of these offshore islands to provide food and undisturbed nesting grounds safe from predators. The islands host half of the world's population of ashy storm-petrels and western gulls and 80% of the U.S. breeding population of Scripps's murrelets. In addition, the islands are home to the only major breeding population of California brown pelicans in the western U.S.

The Channel Islands are critically important to seabirds, supporting:

- the largest breeding colonies of seabirds in southern California
- the only breeding colonies of California brown pelicans in California
- the only protected colonies of California brown pelicans and Scripps's murrelets on the West Coast of the U.S.
- the largest colonies in southern California of Cassin's auklet, western gulls, Scripps's murrelets, rhinoceros auklets, tufted puf fins, ashy storm-petrels, double-crested cormorants, pigeon guillemots, and black storm-petrels
- over 30 years of seabird research

Impacts to Seabirds
Seabirds in the park and throughout southern California are impacted by many factors including contaminants, oil spills, invasive species, and changes in the ocean environment. For example, the introduction of DDT, a long-lived pesticide, into the marine environment has severely impacted seabird populations at the islands. Before DDT was banned in the 1970s, California's brown pelican population suffered nearly complete reproductive failure.

On land, predation and habitat disturbance by invasive species have impacted seabirds. At Anacapa, introduced black rats preyed heavily on seabird eggs and chicks severely depleting populations of Scripps's murrelets. Black rats still prey on seabird populations on San Miguel. At Santa Barbara Island, seabirds were decimated by cats and habitat has been marginalized by years of over grazing by introduced livestock and rabbits. Seabird habitat has also been severely impacted by grazing of non-native animals on Santa Cruz Island.

Monitoring and Restoration
Through monitoring and restoration programs, the park and its partners are working to conserve critical nesting habitat and to protect the integrity of island and marine ecosystems that support seabird populations in southern California. Several of these projects have been funded by the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program (MSRP), a multi-agency government program dedicated to restoring natural resources harmed by DDTs and PCBs released into the environment. For more information on MSRP visit:

Restoring Anacapa Island Seabird Habitat

Anacapa Island provides critically important habitat for seabirds, pinnipeds, and endemic plants and animals. The island's steep, lava rock cliffs have numerous caves and crevices that are particularly important for the increasingly rare seabird species, Scripps's murrelet and ashy storm-petrel. The largest breeding colony of the California brown pelican in the United States is Anacapa Island and a unique subspecies of deer mouse occurs only here as well.

The Anacapa ecosystem, however, was degraded by the presence of non-native black rats (Rattus rattus). Rats have been introduced to over 80% of the world's islands, accounting for an estimated 40-60% of all bird and reptile extinctions in the world. On Anacapa, rats were introduced prior to 1940, most likely as stowaways on ships to the island. They have had large impacts on nesting seabirds, preying heavily on eggs and chicks of seabirds as their food source. Approximately 40% of Scripps's Murrelet nests on Anacapa have shown evidence of egg predation. Rats also prey directly on the native island deer mouse.

In the mid-1990s, the park teamed with the Island Conservation and Ecology Group (ICEG) to determine if and how rats could be eradicated from Anacapa Island. ICEG, active internationally in the restoration of island ecosystems through the eradication of non-native species, was aware of several successful eradications of rats from islands, particularly in New Zealand. Rats have been eradicated on over 100 islands worldwide by applying rodenticide bait; trapping alone has never succeeded.

Anacapa Island presented special challenges. The island has extensive steep cliffs, making placement of bait into the territory of every rat difficult. The endemic deer mice would feed on any bait that was attractive to rats. The endangered California brown pelican, extremely sensitive to disturbance, breed and nest on a large portion of the island during eight months of the year.

Following extensive consultation with experts, the park and ICEG determined that rats could be eradicated through the distribution of bait pellets with brodifacoum, the anticoagulant used in the majority of successful rat eradications. This product contains half the amount of rodenticide that is found in products that homeowners commonly purchase in the local grocery store and it would not accumulate in the environment since it breaks down into harmless carbon dioxide in water.

Fortuitously, the American Trader Trustee Council (ATTC), consisting of California Department of Fish & Game, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, had court settlement monies resulting from an oil spill in southern California. The purpose, in part, of the settlement monies was to restore seabird populations injured by the oil spill. The trustees supported eradication of the black rat from Anacapa Island because it is one of the most significant islands for breeding seabirds in southern California.

The bait application (from a hopper suspended under a helicopter) was scheduled during the fall, the end of the dry season, when rats were very hungry and both visitation and bird populations were low. Protection of the native deer mice had two components: a) holding a small population of mice in captivity, and b) maintaining deer mice in the wild by treating East Anacapa one year prior to treating Middle and West Anacapa.

Phase I, application of bait to East Anacapa Island, was completed in December 2001 and Phase II, treatment of Middle and West Anacapa, was completed in fall 2002. Extensive ecological monitoring pre- and post-rat eradication was conducted to determine the environmental impacts of the project. This monitoring has found substantial recovery of rare seabirds and other native wildlife on Anacapa Island following the eradication of rats. Mouse populations have returned to normal and they are breeding abundantly in the wild, while juvenile side-blotched lizards and slender salamanders are thriving in the absence of rats.

Numerous environmental groups endorsed the project including the American Bird Conservancy, Pacific Seabird Group, California Audubon Society, Endangered Species Recovery Council, Audubon Living Oceans, and Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures. American Bird Conservancy President, George H. Fenwick, stated, "The Anacapa Island project is precisely the type of well-designed, extensively researched, and responsibly implemented program that the American Bird Conservancy supports and encourages. The long-term benefits of rat eradication on Anacapa Island are enormous for the conservation of one of North America's most distinctive ecosystems."

Almost immediately, scientists recorded a dramatic and positive response by Scripps's murrelets, a rare seabird that nests on the island. In 2003, Thomas Hamer, of Hamer Environmental, reported, "We have detected increases in the number of birds visiting nesting colonies ranging from 58% to more than two times higher when compared to the number of detections that we recorded per night in any of the previous years." Since then, biologists have continued to monitor an increasing number of nests of Scripps's murrelets and a consistently high success rate for hatching of eggs. Another rare seabird, Cassin's auklet, has returned to Anacapa Island as a breeding following the elimination of the rats. They continue to be very uncommon on the island. It is hoped that their numbers will also continue to increase.

Channel Islands National Park Superintendent Russell Galipeau, comments, "This project was critical to protecting and restoring the rare and unique wildlife on Anacapa. The National Park Service is dedicated to ensuring a diverse, naturally functioning island ecosystem."

Western Gull

Anacapa Island is one of the largest breeding centers for western gulls in the U.S. The breeding/nesting period is May through July. In 1993, over 1000 nests were estimated on East Anacapa, 4-5,000 on Middle and West Anacapa, plus other large colonies throughout the Channel Islands. [Previously, East Anacapa was a large pelican breeding center. However, when the lighthouse was built in the 1930's, human disturbance caused the pelicans to move to West Anacapa. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, eggshell thinning from the pesticide DDT resulted in almost complete reproductive failure of this population (only one West Anacapa pelican successfully fledged in 1969). With the ban on DDT production shortly thereafter, the pelicans have made a steady comeback. Since 1980, as many as 6,000 nests per year have been built on West Anacapa, making it the largest pelican rookery in So. Calif.]

A western gull's nest starts as a scrape or depression in the ground, with twigs and grasses added to form a nest bowl in which the eggs are laid. Some gulls prefer to build their nests in small cliffside caves. They usually lay 2-3 eggs which are incubated for 4 weeks. In 1993, there were many 3-chick broods, often a sign of good food sources and healthier parents. The eggs are cryptically-colored a mottled brown, similar to the chicks' downy feathers during the first month of life---to camouflage them from predators.

Gull "brood patches" are on the breast. This is a highly vascularized area that loses all the downy underfeathers during the breeding season. Adults sit with the eggs or small chicks pressed against this very warm patch of bare skin. [In contrast, pelicans have highly vascularized feet so they stand on their eggs. This is one of the problems with eggshell thinning--the full weight of the bird causes the egg to break.]

A 50-70% 1st-year mortality rate is not uncommon for gull chicks, due to: 1.) predation--from other gulls (when they wander outside their territory), ravens, feral cats, rats and others; 2.) starvation--due to abandonment or lack of food sources in meager years; 3.) hazards--falling off cliffs and other accidents.

The survival rate increases with each year until sexual maturity at 4-5 years. The western gull's average lifespan is 15-17 years, although some have been tracked for over 20 years-looking just as healthy as newly-matured birds.

Chicks begin to grow their flight feathers at 4 weeks, with first flights at 6-7 weeks. 2-3 weeks later, they are ready to leave the nest, although gull parents may continue to feed them awhile longer.

The red spot on the adult gull's beak is a feeding target for chicks. They tap the red spot and the parent-bird regurgitates food. As scavengers, mature gulls will eat practically anything, including clams, crabs, urchins, fish, carrion and human garbage (the bones along trails of Anacapa are most likely chicken bones from the Oxnard garbage dump).

Adults will maintain the same territory year after year, often putting the nest in the exact same location. When the chicks mature, they return to breed in the same general nesting area where they were hatched.

Year-to-year, there are recognizable differences in sub-adult feather coloration (plumage). Therefore, gulls can be aged by plumage until adulthood is reached--4 years for males and 5 years for females. First-year western gulls are completely dark, including their bills. Mature birds have a white head and body, light-orange bill with a red spot, dark gray mantle (the back between shoulders), and black-tipped dark gray wings. [The northern race of western gulls above Morro Bay have a lighter gray mantle.]

Western gulls mate for life and both parents incubate the eggs, protect the chicks and feed them (as do pelicans). They usually work in shifts to protect the eggs and chicks at all times. If one parent dies, the nest may be abandoned--one cause of chick mortality. Since the male is really the holder of the territory, he will quickly attract a new mate. If the male dies, the female has to wander in search of a male with his own territory.

Since there is a notable shortage of fresh water in the middle of the ocean, gulls and most other sea birds drink salt water. They have a special gland to filter excess salt from their blood. In the western gull, this "salt gland" is located at the base of the bill, and the excess salt is excreted through the nostrils. {Sea lions and seals have specialized digestive systems to perform this same function.]

Western gulls are highly territorial. Squabbles and fights are common. No mercy is shown to any invaders of territory, even chicks from adjacent nests. Squawking at invaders, including people, is an effective defense mechanism. Sometimes, gulls may lift off and dive at intruders, attempting to kick with the feet, bite or hit with the bill. Putting your hand up high above your head will ward them off. [Pelicans are more tolerant of each other, tending to nest in close proximity within their colonies. A "bill's length" away defines their territory.]

Western gulls are one of eleven gull species found on the West Coast of the United States. 22 gull species are seen in all of North America, with 45 species worldwide.

Channel Islands National Park

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
15 minutes, 6 seconds

Ten years after removing nonnative rats the ecosystem on Anacapa Island, including rare seabirds, is showing profound results of recovery.

Last updated: March 28, 2021