For the first time in more than 50 years, a pair of bald eagles hatched a chick on Santa Cruz Island, wildlife biologists said Thursday.
The fluffy chick came out of its shell Wednesday afternoon about 35 days after the egg was discovered on the island off Southern California. Scientists say the successful breeding marked a significant milestone in their four-year effort to reintroduce the eagles to the island.
"It's such an incredible event," said David Garcelon, president of the Institute for Wildlife Studies. "For the first time in 50 years they did it themselves. It's a new age for the islands."
He had another reason to celebrate Thursday: a second nest was recently found on the island. A female eagle has been observed sitting on it since March 28, possibly guarding an egg.
The last known successful nesting of a bald eagle on the four northern Channel Islands was in 1949 on Anacapa Island.
Bald eagles once flourished on the islands off the California coast but they disappeared in the 1960s as DDT polluted their food chain. The now-banned pesticide made the birds' eggshells brittle.
The institute's program, which began in 2002, receives money from a $25 million fund to deal with the lingering effects of tons of DDT dumped into the ocean. About 25 birds exist on the Channel Islands.
Scientists say a camera focused on the nest will help them keep a close eye on the chick.
"It is a sensitive time, but the parents are very good. There's always one of them there," Garcelon said.