The Federal Endangered Species Act
Background of Bald Eagles contributed by San Bernardino National Forest Public Affairs Officer John Miller
The best time of year
to see Bald Eagles in Southern California is during Winter months when there is
an influx of eagles. Migrating eagles
typically begin arriving in the area in late November and leave in late March
or early April.
Bald Eagles are
usually found close to water because their diet is primarily made up of fish
and ducks. As winter approaches in those
northern regions, lakes freeze over and waterfowl fly south. For Bald Eagles, that means that the food
they eat has become scarce. So, they
head South looking for areas with abundant food supplies and end up wintering
in sunny Southern California!
During the winter, Southern
California Bald Eagles are typically found at many of the lakes, including Big
Bear Lake, Baldwin Lake, Silverwood Lake, Lake Arrowhead, Green Valley Lake,
Grass Valley Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains and Prado Dam, Lake Perris,
Lake Hemet, Lake Skinner, Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Matthews, and the Salton
Sea to the south.
radio-tracking Bald Eagles, biologists learned that some of the same individual
eagles return to the San Bernardino Mountains year after year. We also determined that there is a lot of
movement of eagles between the different mountain lakes and that the lakes do
not have distinctive separate populations—the eagles regularly move between the
banding also revealed that the eagles that winter in the San Bernardino
Mountains migrate to Southern California from Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and
Canada. Those regions are likely where
most of our migratory Bald Eagles nest in Spring and Summer. Some of the San Bernardino Mountains’ eagles
were tracked all the way to Alberta and the Northwest Territories in Canada -
that is about 2,000 miles one-way!
For more information
regarding Bald Eagle migratory routes for these and other California eagles go
to the University of Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group’s web site at (http://www2.ucsc.edu/scpbrg/baeamigration.htm). While the evidence suggests a northern
interior migration for most of the Bald Eagles, some of our southern California eagles have traveled fewer miles, moving
over from the Channel Islands.
of Bald Eagles in Southern California were wiped out by the late 1950’s. Until reintroduction efforts began in the
1980’s on Catalina Island, the southern-most nest site known in California was
in Lake County. Since 2003, several
pairs of Bald Eagles have decided that our Southern California neighborhoods
were too nice to leave – they built nests and have successfully raised
families. Nesting Bald Eagles are now
found at Lake Hemet, Lake Skinner, Lake Matthews, and Big Bear Lake. As the populations continue to grow, more Bald
Eagles are in our future.
Pointing to the
comeback of Bald Eagles in Southern California is the story of “02”. This female eagle hatched at San Francisco
Zoo in 2000 and was released on Catalina Island as part of the reintroduction
efforts. In 2004, she arrived at Lake
Hemet (identified by her orange wing tags “02”) and decided to take up
year-round residence with the male Bald Eagle that was already there. Together, the pair has raised successful
nests ever since then.
In 2012, the first
successful Bald Eagle nesting ever recorded in the San Bernardino Mountains
happened in Big Bear Lake! To protect
that nest site and help ensure a successful nesting attempt this year, the
Forest Service has closed the area to all public entry. This includes Gray’s Peak Trail and Grout Bay
Day Use area as well as the undeveloped forest area around the nest tree. The closure will remain in effect until the
chicks leave the nest or the nest fails.
As Bald Eagles raise
families in southern California, it is now possible to see Bald Eagles
year-round (not just during winter migrations).
Because of the influx of migrating bald eagles during the winter, the
easiest time to see eagles is still between December and March.
The Bald Eagle is a
success story of the federal Endangered Species Act – through protection under
that law; its populations have recovered from the brink of extinction. Captive breeding programs, reintroduction
efforts, the banning of DDT, and public education have all helped in the
recovery of this species. There are over
10,000 breeding pairs in the United States and they now breed again in all 49
of the continental United States (they have never bred in Hawaii).
Because of the
population rebound, Bald Eagles are no longer in jeopardy of going
extinct. While Bald Eagles are no longer
protected under federal Endangered Species Act, they still have full protection
under the Bald Eagle Protection Act and under the State of California’s
Endangered Species Act. These laws make
it illegal to harm or harass Bald Eagles.
It is also illegal to possess Bald Eagle parts, even a feather.
Catching a glimpse of
our breath-taking national symbol is relatively easy during winter months. There are some fantastic opportunities for
excellent close-up photographs too. Just
look in the tallest trees around the lake near open water for perching
eagles. Or, if the lake is partly
frozen, look for Bald Eagles perched on the ice near small groups of ducks
using the open water.
If you want to look
for Bald Eagles in the Big Bear area, stop by the Forest Service's Big Bear Discovery
Center (on North Shore Drive, 1-1/2 miles west of Stanfield Cutoff) and pick up
a handout on eagles. Also, join us for one of our free public talks – call the
Big Bear Discovery Center (909-382-2790) for dates and times.
If you are in Garner
Valley and want to see the resident pair, stop by the Forest Service’s Lake
Hemet Day Use Area and just look across the lake. The birds are often flying
overhead fishermen and or sitting in trees above the picnic area.
Remember that human presence may distract or disturb the Bald Eagles - so,
try to limit your movements and do not make loud noises when they're
nearby. If possible, remain in your car
while looking at eagles - the car acts as a blind. Stay a respectful distance of at least
200-300’ away from perched Bald Eagles. Do not get closer than ¼ mile
away nesting Bald Eagles – trying to get a closer look may
result in eagles becoming agitated and knocking eggs or chicks out to the
nest. It is illegal to harm or harass Bald Eagles. Please do your part to help
protect our National Bird.