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Encountering Bald Eagles at Channel Islands National Park

As I sat in my kayak atop the canopy of giant bladder kelp, I felt the swoosh of a bald eagle as it soared overhead, two blue wing tags with A-03 attached to its impressive 6-foot-wide wingspan.

I was leading an Adventure Tour for Santa Barbara Adventure Company at Scorpion Anchorage near the southeast fringe of Santa Cruz Island, and for several years now, bald eagle sightings at the idyllic natural harbor have become commonplace. A-03 arrived at Scorpion Anchorage sometime in 2020, while the new pier was constructed at Scorpion Anchorage and Santa Barbara Adventure Company was leading kayak tours at Prisoners Harbor, six miles to the west.

As I and eight others paddled ourselves in and out of toothy sea caves, we continued to encounter two regal bald eagles at the main hub of Channel Islands National Park (CINP). A-03 is now 7 years old and has eked out a diverse territory from San Pedro Point to Potato Harbor. He is seen with a female who is a “mystery bird.” Biologists are not sure of her origins, but female bald eagles are 25 percent larger than males, so when the two are perched next to each other, their size difference is obvious.

On the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS) website, A-03 is also known as Theos. He has two brothers. A-02 is known as Henry and has a mate on Santa Rosa Island. The other brother, A-04 is known as Barrett. He resides on San Miguel Island. The triplets represent the incredible recovery of bald eagles across the entire northern Channel Islands chain.

Due to the pesticide DDT, populations of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and California brown pelicans were decimated across the Channel Islands from the 1940s until it became outlawed in 1972. From 1952 – 2002 there were no bald eagles remaining across the chain. 

However, from 2002–2006, CINP, IWS, and The Nature Conservancy partnered together for an aggressive reintroduction program, returning bald eagles to their historic island haunts. Each year, for five years biologists released 12 bald eaglets at eight weeks old. Those raptors were not ready to fly just yet, so biologists placed them in hack towers, an open-air enclosure raised about 15 feet off the ground. Each tower was open but barred so the birds could feel the ocean air in their wings. Two to three eaglets shared a hack tower, and each enclosure was equipped with a nest, perch, and a trapdoor so biologists could throw fish to the eaglets without being seen, thus, not leaving their human imprint on the young eaglets. Four weeks later the hack tower was opened, and the eaglets were ready to fly. Today, there are roughly 50 bald eagles fanned out across the northern chain. There are 12 nesting pairs, and the rest are individual birds figuring things out on the rugged archipelago.

Seeing A-03 from a kayak is witnessing a terrific example of island conservation. His mother is named Cruz, and she is one of the stars on the CINP website where viewers can watch her active nest on the live eagle cam at Fraser Point on the far northwest end of Santa Cruz Island. Sadly, the father of the triplets passed in 2022. Like island foxes, bald eagles are monogamous. Cruz wasted no time and had since paired up with another bald eagle named Andor. They had two eaglets’ last spring.

The grandparents of Theos, Henry, and Barrett are still around and close by. One of those grandparents is from Catalina Island. The other eagle is from CINP. They have been together going on 18 years. Their nest is not far from Scorpion Anchorage, and those majestic raptors are seen near Pelican Bay, seven miles northwest of where A-03 resides. Cruz is their first offspring, the first eaglet born after reintroduction in 2006. Cruz is now 17 years old.

And so, there are now strong family ties stretching across the craggy, windswept, wave-battered isles, a very unique example of a natural balance returned to CINP, and best experienced from a kayak while guided on a sea cave tour with Santa Barbara Adventure Company.

Author, photographer, and kayak guide Chuck Graham

Blog contributed by:
Chuck Graham

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