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Bald eagles in L.A. County: An American environmental success story





April 22, 2017 - There is a mating pair majestic bald eagles nesting in a tree just off of Highway 39 in Azusa Canyon. It's quite an impressive sight.


Steve Scauzillo


San Gabriel Valley Tribune


Bald eagles in L.A. County: An American environmental success story
An adult bald eagle flies to its nest along Highway 39 near the San Gabriel Dam. File photo. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Once bald eagles settle on a home, they stay there.

Theyíre not the peripatetic types.

Sure, they can fly 100 miles for dinner, but then itís back in the nest by nightfall.

And though their peripheral vision is over 300 degrees, they arenít looking around when another male or female eagle catches their eye. These birds mate for life. By the way, a humanís peripheral vision is about 180 degrees.

That is whatís happening with the first nesting pair of Americaís national bird ever found in Los Angeles County. They were found exactly one year ago when I wrote about the bird couple taking up residency on a lone tree near San Gabriel Dam off Highway 39 north of Azusa.

Last Sunday evening, I went back to the site for the first time in a year.

Friends, who have become bald eagle aficionados, took me to the side of the road where you could see their latest family with binoculars. The female bird was guarding the nest, while daddy bird was nowhere to be found.

The couple had been to the bald eagle Home Depot. They added a north wing. The nest was much larger than it was last year. Good thing, too. This time they had two chicks, not one.

Both could be seen occasionally, their fuzzy black heads popping out of the twiggy nest once in a while. They donít get their white marking until about 4 years old.

Most of the time her brood slept, out of site from onlookers, including two professional cameramen with the longest lenses Iíd ever seen squatting on tiny chairs in the brush.

Every time the chicks would stir, or stretch their wings as if in mid-yawn, they would go back to sleep. You could hear the camera shutters clicking away. You can see Keith Durflingerís photos from last year here at:

Each wing looked to be a good 18 inches long, said my friend.

Iíve heard their first flights are awkward. They take several tries before they achieve liftoff.

Since bald eagles have a 90-inch wingspan as adults, the largest of any raptor, Iíd say these chicks were on their way to adulthood. Fledglings stay home for about 12 weeks. These are expected to go their own way some time in mid to late summer.

Where will they go?

No one really knows because the chicks are not banded with radio collars. The female is; it is said she was born in the Santa Ana Mountains and moved north.

A report from the UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group tracked a bald eagle from Lake Silverwood in the San Bernardino Mountains to the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. The bird must have traveled 1,800 miles in a month, the research team reported.

Before these, the bald eagles Iíve seen, both adults and newborn chicks, were in San Bernardino County in the mountains near Big Bear Lake. Iíve seen some at the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Carmel and several pair on the Snake River inside Grand Tetons National Park.

They donít screech. They chatter, sounding almost like songbirds. Or an old married couple gently arguing.

But they can be fierce when they need to be.

The have not one, but four talons on each foot. The back talon, the hallux, is about 2 inches long in females, slightly less in males.

A whir of cameras clicking interrupted my daydream. I asked the photographer what was up.

ďThe light is getting better,Ē he said. He showed me an image on his viewfinder. The frame was filled with her head, slightly dirty from a round of fishing in the muddy San Gabriel Reservoir, some surmised. But still beautiful. Her eye, yellow, piercing, on a neck turned to literally see behind her back. Her vision is 20/5, way better than perfect human sight. Her plumage puffed out.

Their victory story is part of the U.S. EPA decision to ban DDT that was killing them off. Now, they are showing up in lots of places and even thriving. A vision of America, perhaps. Or, just nature showing off.

Steve Scauzillo covers transportation and the environment for the Southern California News Group. Heís the recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter @stevscaz or email him at




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