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Rare golden eagle nest found in Santa Monica Mountains for first time in 30 years

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The golden eagle chicks were found in a remote cave in the western Santa Monica Mountains and tagged by biologists.
(National Park Service)

A pair of golden eagle chicks have been found in the Santa Monica Mountains for the first time in nearly three decades, wildlife officials said Wednesday.

A nest discovered in the western portion of the mountain range held a pair of 12-week-old golden eagles, a fully protected species in California, authorities said. The last time a nest was reported in the area was in the late 1980s, near Lobo Canyon.

The National Park Service announced Wednesday that the chicks, a male and a female, were found March 11 when a consultant conducting bird surveys on private property saw the nest. The consultant notified park service officials April 9 about the discovery.

In early May, biologists with the park service, the U.S. Geological Survey and Bloom Biological Inc. confirmed the nest location in a large mountain cave. The chicks were tagged with two ankle bands — one colored and one numbered — that help scientists monitor bird populations.

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The golden eagle chicks were 12 weeks old when they were discovered.
(National Park Service)

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Scientists who visited the cave said western gulls appeared to be the eagle family’s food of choice based on remains found in the nest. Park service officials said that although the chicks recently fledged, they will rely on their parents until around late fall, when they learn to hunt on their own.

Golden eagles have historically inhabited the Santa Monica Mountains, but the discovery of the nest is still surprising: Sightings are extremely rare, and the Park Service said a survey of the mountains in the 2000s didn’t yield any active nests.

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The golden eagle, a cousin of the bald eagle, is one of the largest birds in North America. The park service said biologists think the population, which is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, may be declining in the U.S., especially in California.

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Each chick received two bands — one colored and one numbered — to help scientists monitor them.
(National Park Service)

Katy Delaney, an ecologist with the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, said humans are the greatest threat to golden eagles. She said the species’ range in much of California has been reduced by hunting and a loss of habitat for nesting.

“In the past, they were trapped and shot throughout their range, and today, they are vulnerable to habitat loss,” Delaney said. “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.”

Delaney said that, although officials haven’t seen the species in many years, it’s possible the golden eagles may have been in the area but were undetected at a time when fire and drought have besieged the state.

“Nonetheless, this is a good thing for our mountains. We not only have mountain lions here, but we have golden eagles too,” Delaney said.


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