We took the kids to America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College in Ventura County on Monday. I’ve seen bald eagles in the wild around here at Cachuma Lake in Santa Barbara County and Lake Casitas in Ventura County, but this is the closest I’ve ever been to one. Even in a zoo as it was it’s still an experience I appreciate.
Bald eagles are more prevalent in other parts of the country so some readers may think it odd or find it amusing in some way that I seem to make a big deal about them here. Seeing bald eagles in the wild around these parts is, I think it’s fair to say, an uncommon experience. Unless you’re one of the few people that regularly frequent the few areas the few eagles around here inhabit. That’s a lot of “fews.”
These photos were taken with my cell phone camera. In other words, I wasn’t poking a zoom or telephoto lens through the fence from a distant viewing area. The bald eagle exhibit at Santa Barbara Zoo doesn’t typically offer visitors as close a viewing experience. This eagle was perched on a log no more than two feet from my face. The bird’s piercing eyes and penetrating gaze was intense.
Bald Eagle History
Bald eagles once soared in numbers over vast expanses of pristine marine and freshwater wilderness in Santa Barbara County. Referred to as a fish eagle, the white-headed raptors prey primarily on aquatic vertebrates, although they are also known to scavenge and feed on carrion. The native steelhead of yore, which once swam up the Santa Ynez River in runs of 20,000 to 30,000 or more must have fed not only the now regionally extinct grizzly bears but bald eagles, too.
Bald eagles historically nested on all of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands feasting on the abundant marine life. By the 1960s, perched at the confluence of human actions that left their habitat severely polluted and degraded, their population had been decimated and they vanished from the island chain.
Restoration efforts by the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS) to reintroduce eagles to the islands began in 1980, but were unsuccessful due to lingering traces of DDT. Between 2002 and 2006, IWS released 61 eagles on Santa Cruz Island, and in 2006 the eagles were once more nesting.
In 2007, the U.S. government removed the bald eagle from the Endangered Species List, but it remains listed as a state-endangered species in California.
In 2010, a record number of bald eagle nests and hatched chicks were observed on Catalina, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands: 13 nests and 15 chicks. The two chicks on Santa Rosa marked the first time in 60 years bald eaglets were known to have hatched on the island.
Historically, the Channel Islands alone were home to around 35 nesting pairs of bald eagles. At the time they were listed as an endangered species, there were fewer than 30 nesting pairs known to exist in all of California, most of which lived in the northern part of the state.
As part of the ongoing restoration effort, there are currently several live webcams set up overlooking bald eagle nests on the Santa Barbara Channel Islands: