For the first time since the late 1980s, a pair of golden eagle chicks have been spotted in a nest in the Santa Monica Mountains, officials announced Wednesday.
A consultant surveying birds on private land near a remote area of the western side of the mountains alerted park biologists about the two 12-week-old chicks, according to the National Park Service.
Experts confirmed the sighting of the protected species in early May. They banded birds, one female and one male, to monitor them. Scientists also took blood samples for genetic testing.
The golden eagle, a cousin to the bald eagle, is one of the largest birds in North America, the Park Service said. Spotting one is extremely rare, and its population may be dropping, especially in California, according to the agency.
The last confirmed nesting in the mountains dates back 30 years ago in the central part of the mountain range near Lobo Canyon.
Katy Delaney, an ecologist with the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, said the birds are vulnerable to habitat loss, lead through poisoned prey, electrocution from power lines and crashing into wind turbines.
“We haven’t seen them in so many years, though they could have been around and staying away from people,” Delaney said. “We just went through a huge fire and drought, and we’re also not going to see a decrease in urban development. Nonetheless, this is a good thing for our mountains. We not only have mountain lions here, but we have golden eagles, too.”
The chicks found in May will continue to count on more experienced birds around until they learn to hunt, which will likely happen in late fall, according to the Park Service.
They typically feed on rabbits, squirrels and carrion, but they could also consume small birds, snakes, mule deer fawns and coyote puppies.
“In the case of this family, western gulls was the prey item of choice at the time of banding,” the Park Service said. “There were seven gull wings found in the nest, located in a large cave.”
Ten other types of raptors have historically bred in the Santa Monica Mountains, the most common of which are the western screech owls and red-tailed hawks, the Park Service said. Untrained observers sometimes mistake the latter for golden eagles, according to officials.