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BIRDS OF PASSAGE


Six bald eagle chicks were taken from their mothers at eight weeks and carried aboard the 100-foot Ocean Ranger to manmade nests on Santa Cruz Island. The chicks — already larger than full-grown chickens — are being reintroduced to the island in an effort to undo the damage done by DDT poisonings of the mid-20th century, when the Montrose Chemical Corporation dumped the shell-thinning pesticide into the ocean from its Palos Verdes factory, nearly extinguishing California’s bald eagle population. Four more chicks from the San Francisco Zoo are due to be transported to the island later this year as part of the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program; after that, biologists plan to back off and see how the birds fare on their own.

On its way back to the mainland, the Ocean Ranger carried four dead bald eagles to be autopsied; one was found in the water and probably drowned, while the two found on Santa Rosa Island may have died from eating lead bullets. Bald eagles eat live fish and, to a lesser extent, carrion. According to biologists from the Institute of Wildlife Studies, of the 46 birds reintroduced to the northern Channel Islands, 30 remain, including two born there and several who flew there from Santa Catalina, which has its own restoration program. Their mortality rate has been the same or better than it normally is in the wild, biologists said. While it is not unusual for young birds to try to fly to the mainland before they are strong enough to make it, the scientists have found that attempts at this kind of crossing become less frequent as the number of birds on the island increases.  — Martha Sadler



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