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Feathering Their Nests

Channel Islands Seabird Breeding Colonies Get Leg Up


To preserve and restore seabird nesting grounds throughout the Channel Islands—a critical nesting area for almost 99 percent of Southern California seabird species—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are teaming up. Annie Little, a biologist from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, presented their plan at this month’s lecture series “From Shore to Sea,” hosted by Channel Island’s Marine Sanctuary and Channel Island National Park.

Little laid out a comprehensive plan for the restoration projects on Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara Islands, which harbor some rare species and are particularly popular breeding and nesting grounds for sea birds in this region. “The islands support the largest colonies of breeding seabirds in Southern California,” Little said.

She went over the three major restoration projects, all of them designed to increase breeding populations, improve nesting habitats, and provide long-term monitoring for the proposed sites. The projects also aim to attract rare birds like the pigeon gullemont and Cassin’s auklets. Scientists are using some interesting social attraction techniques. Some of the sites have MP3’s attached to rocks with digital recordings of bird calls, along with mechanisms for light reflection. “We’re using nocturnal audio broadcasting to attract seabirds like auklets and ashy storm petrels to potential breeding sites,” Little explained.

The restoration projects are funded by Montrose Settlements Restoration Program, formed in response to when Montrose Chemical Corporation improperly dumped, through Los Angeles sewage systems, nearly 17,000 tons of DDT contaminants that eventually ended up in the Palos Verdes Shelf.

Some of the most heavily affected areas are sites found throughout the Channel Islands, especially Catalina Island. After a long legal battle, Montrose was finally court-ordered to provide millions of dollars in restitution to restore critical habitats harboring breeding sea birds, and endangered species affected by the toxin dispersal. Bald eagles, in particular, have suffered greatly from the bioaccumulation of DDT in to their diet, which acts as an endocrine disruptor and interferes with critical processes of their reproduction. (Unfortunately for bald eagles this means inadequate eggshells.) Many of the restoration efforts are aimed towards reviving bald eagle numbers, and substantial advancements for their populations as well as others’ have taken place relatively recently on the islands.

Fish and Wildlife states, “As of January 2007, 61 birds have been released and there are approximately 30 bald eagles remaining on the northern Channel Islands. Each eagle is equipped with satellite telemetry equipment that allows the biologists to track movements within the Channel Islands and along the mainland.”

More good news for that endangered species came around this year, when Channel Islands National park announced the successful birth of two new bald eagle chicks on Santa Cruz Island. The park’s Kate Faulkner said, “The fact that two bald eagle chicks hatched without the help of humans on the northern Channel Islands represents a significant milestone in the recovery efforts for the entire Channel Island ecosystem.”

Channel Islands Live features a bald eagle cam on its website, which allows people in the community to observe the famous new additions to the island from the comfort of their own home.

As restoration projects progress, and innovative ideas for attracting rare birds to the islands continue to evolve, the future of the Channel Islands recovering bird populations has never looked brighter.

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