Golden Eagle Chicks Were Found In The Santa Monica Mountains — The First In 30 Years
Your week of good wildlife news isn't over. In addition to that new mountain lion discovered Monday, the National Park Service announced this morning that researchers recently found two golden eagle chicks in their nest, which hasn't happened since the late '80s.
The baby raptors, a 12-week-old male and a female, were found in early May, nesting in a cave in a remote spot of the western Santa Monica Mountains, according to NPS officials. Biologists from the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA), as well as the U.S. Geological Survey and Bloom Biological Inc., located and banded the eaglets. Those bands will help scientists keep track of their status and migration, among other things. Biologists also took blood samples to conduct genetic testing.
The find is good news for the mountains, according to SMMNRA ecologist Katy Delaney, though she noted that golden eagles' nesting and hunting habitats are continually in danger.
"Humans are the greatest threat to golden eagles," Delaney said in a press release. "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."
Golden eagles' usual diet consists of rabbits and squirrels, but scientists say they'll also make meals out of carrion, small birds and snakes, and even bigger prey like deer fawns and coyote pups. These two eagle chicks — and their parents — seemed to enjoy the taste of seagulls (biologists know because they found seven wings in the nest).
The pair of eaglets recently left the nest, NPS spokeswoman Ana Beatriz Cholo said in a release, but they haven't gone far and still need some parental support.
"For the next several months, they will continue to rely on the more experienced birds until they learn to successfully hunt on their own, which may be around late fall," she said.
After finding their predatory footing, young eagles generally spread their wings and leave their parent's breeding territory, sometimes up to 1,200 miles away. But researchers say when the eagles turn four or five years old, they typically come back to the place they grew up to establish their own nesting territory. Who knew eagles were so sentimental?
Scientists believe most golden eagles mate for life and return to the same nest each breeding season.
Historically, golden eagles were found nesting throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. Citing local Chumash accounts, NPS officials said golden eagles had a deep historical connection to Boney Mountain.
Fully grown golden eagles can weigh up to 13 pounds with a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet. Not quite the (fictional) golden eagle from Disney's The Rescuers Down Under, but don't let that stop you from daydreaming about soaring through the clouds with your best eagle friend.