Pair spotted for the first time in 30 years
By Keldine Hull
For the first time in 30 years, a pair of golden eagle chicks were found in a remote area of the western Santa Monica Mountains. A consultant conducting bird surveys on private property discovered the 12-week old male and female chicks and alerted the National Park Service (NPS).
Both chicks were each outfitted with two bands, one colored and one numbered. According to NPS, “The bands are part of the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) Bird Banding Laboratory to help scientists monitor the status, trends and ecology of resident and migratory bird populations.” Blood was also taken from each chick for genetic testing. For the next few months, the chicks will rely on more experienced birds, acquiring the necessary skill set to successfully hunt on their own.
Once prevalent throughout the Santa Monica Mountains in areas like Malibu Creek State Park and Boney Mountain in Point Mugu State Park, the last confirmed sighting of a nest was near Lobo Canyon in the late 1980s. According to Katy Delaney, an ecologist with Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, loss of habitats for nesting and hunting has reduced their range in much of the state. “Humans are the greatest threat to golden eagles,” Delaney said. “In the past, they were trapped and shot throughout their range and today, they are vulnerable to habitat loss. Like their mammalian carnivore counterparts, they can die from eating poisoned prey as well as from lead poisoning, electrocution on power lines and collisions with wind turbines.”
Delaney continued, “We haven’t seen them in so many years, though they could have been around and staying away from people. We just went through a huge fire and drought, and we’re also not going to see a decrease in urban development. Nonetheless, this is a good thing for our mountains. We not only have mountain lions here, but we have golden eagles, too.”
One of the largest birds in North America, golden eagles are a fully protected species and cousin to the bald eagle, which was designated an emblem of the United States in 1782. Sightings of both species is extremely rare. According to NPS, biologists believe the population of golden eagles may be declining in the US, especially in California.