RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Bad news this week for the bald eagles off the southern California coast. After years of failed efforts, the federal government has cut funding for a repopulation project on Santa Catalina Island. But there is some good news for the birds. On another of the islands called Santa Cruz, scientist recently spotted a freshly laid bald eagle egg. They're hoping it will produce a chick a few weeks from now and if that happens, it would be the first bald eagle born on the island in more than 50 years.
David Garcelon heads the Institute for Wildlife Studies. He says the birds fell into peril mostly because DDT dumped off shore.
Mr. DAVID GARCELON (President, Institute for Wildlife Studies): Well, no one was really carefully watching the nesting eagles on the Channel Islands in the 1940s and 1950s. That's when DDT, the environmental pesticide, was introduced into the marine eco-system and it affects the bald eagle eggs by making them thin and allowing them to break in the nest and so eventually with no reproduction by the birds with all their eggs breaking, eventually the adults died out and so we haven't had bald eagles actually reproducing on the Channel Islands since the middle of the 20th century.
MONTAGE: And there has been reproduction of bald eagles. The chicks are incubated by you guys, right?
Mr. GARCELON: Correct. What we do is we play a little trick on them. We go in there and we grab their eggs, replace them with dummy eggs and then bring their eggs into captivity and try to hatch them under sort of ideal conditions.
MONTAGNE: So, just let me ask you, your organization, the Institute for Wildlife Studies, you're in the last year of a five year project to bring bald eagles back to the California coast?
Mr. GARCELON: Well, it's the last year of releases on the northern Channel Islands. We've released 46 young eagles out there over the last four years. We'll release 12 more eagles this summer and then, basically it's a sit-and-watch situation. We have a number of other birds that some of them are getting their characteristic white heads and tails and starting to kind of look at each other like they want to pair up and establish a territory and so what we're hoping is that in the next two or three years, we'll actually just be monitoring and seeing whether all of our efforts from the last five years are going to pay off.
MONTAGNE: What is an amorous look that a couple of young bald eagles would exchange? What does that look like cause they always look like, so mad or they look so serious (laughs).
Mr. GARCELON: Well, they are pretty serious looking birds. It's hard to tell sometimes, but what we really think is happening is that they start all the sudden rather than just hanging out together, they're actually perching close together. They'll spend the night perched in the same tree. Pretty soon, they're flying very close together and then finally they start to, you know, look for a nest site for building a nest and in this particular case, it looked like the male did the majority of the work.
He was very much into building this nest and to show even after 30 years how little I know about it, I had just told a group that, well, the female's pretty young and she doesn't look like she's that into it. You know, the male's doing all the work and, of course, the next day they had an egg. So, that's why she wasn't doing most of the work. She was just sitting back letting him do all of the work and it takes about 35 days for the egg to hatch so we're looking around the second week of April as the sort of due date, you might say, for these eggs that they're on now.
MONTAGNE: David Garcelon is the president of the Institute for Wildlife Studies which is working to repopulate the bald eagle. You can see photos and learn more about the Channel Islands bald eagle repopulation program at NPR.org.
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