A pair of bald eagles have nested in the San Bernardino Mountains and produced a chick, the first new-born eaglet documented near Big Bear Lake, a Forest Service biologist said Friday.
"He looks like he's maybe 11 or 12 inches in height," said USFS District Biologist Robin Eliason, adding that observers have no way yet of knowing the nestling's gender.
"With our scopes we've been watching the parents bring fish in two or three times a day, if not more," Eliason said in a phone interview. "They bring more sticks to add to the nest. This morning I saw them bring a trout in. They've been feeding a lot and he's been growing."
The eaglet appears healthy and is typical nestling size, around five or six pounds, Eliason said.
"He should be flying by around the end of April," Eliason said.
Forest officials nicknamed the young bird of prey 'Jack' to honor eagle count volunteer Jack Lubecki, who died a couple years ago.
San Bernardino National Forest officials say Jack is the happy result of "the first successful nesting recorded in recent times at Big Bear Lake."
Eliason said Friday she's checked records going back to the 1900s when the forest was in its infancy as federally-protected land, and she's found no documented record of any nestlings or new-born eaglets in the area known today as the San Bernardino National Forest.
The dark-hued eaglet is visible in a March 6 photo taken by Eliason.
Eliason and other biologists estimate the new chick was born around Feb. 11. It was first spotted Feb. 21 by Forest Service wildlife biologist Marc Stamer during a field trip with a group of third-graders from Big Bear Elementary School, Forest Service spokesman John Miller said.
"I was shocked to look through the spotting scope and see a bald eagle chick sitting up in the nest," Stamer said in a Forest Service announcement. "The students, teachers, and parents were as excited to see a baby eagle as I was! It was a first for all of us!"
The chick was born to a pair of eagles who built a nest on the national forest near Grout Bay in Fawnskin several years ago, but had not laid eggs until this season, forest officials said.
"Dubbed Lucy and Ricky by local eagle-maniacs, this pair laid an egg in early January, unbeknownst to local eagle observers and biologists," forest officials said.
The Big Bear Lake area has supported a larg wintering population of bald eagles for many years.
Bald eagles migrate to Southern California's lakes and reservoirs for the abundant food supply - fish and waterfowl - and then return to nest sites in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, and Canada, forest officials said.
Over the past few years, some bald eagles have taken up year-round residency in the Big Bear Lake area, forest officials said.
"We have hoped to see bald eagles nesting in the area for many years since we have great habitat for them," Eliason said. "Eagles mate for life and will use the same nest tree for several years, so we can expect to see bald eagles here year-round for years to come."
To minimize disturbance to the month-old eagle, the Forest Service is extending an annual seasonal closure in the Grout Bay area beyond the usual April 1 date to June 15.
The closure prohibits entry into Grout Bay Picnic Area, Gray's Peak Trailhead, Gray's Peak Trail, and the area directly around the bald eagle nest, to allow the chick to grow and learn to fly without human disturbance, forest officials said.
"We hope our forest users understand the minor inconvenience of having to close some facilities in order to protect the bald eagles," said Eliason.
For over thirty years, the San Bernardino National Forest has maintained winter closures of facilities in the area near Fawnskin to provide disturbance-free perching and foraging areas for bald eagles, forest officials said.
Disturbance around a nest can cause adult eagles to leave the nest long enough that eggs or chicks are susceptible to predators. It can also cause the adults to abandon the nest, eggs, and chicks.
Because its populations were decimated by environmental contaminants, bounty hunters, and habitat loss in the lower 48 states, the bald eagle was one of the first animals protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, forest officials said.
After many years of recovery efforts, the bald eagle was upgraded from "endangered" to "threatened" in 1995. In 2007, it was completely removed from the federal Endangered Species List due to rising population numbers across the country.
Bald eagles, however, are still considered endangered and a "fully protected species" by the State of California. The species is also protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act as well as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Over the past decade, bald eagles have expanded their breeding distribution to include other parts of Southern California, including Lake Hemet, Lake Skinner, Lake Matthews, Lake Henshaw, and the Channel Islands.
There are also records of adult bald eagles for Lake Silverwood, Lake Arrowhead, Baldwin Lake, Lake Perris, and Lake Elsinore in the Inland Empire area.
People interested in helping monitor the bald eagle nest may contact Meredith Brandon at (909) 382-28420 or email@example.com. For information about bald eagle viewing opportunities, contact the Big Bear Discovery Center (909) 382-2789.
The Forest Service is coordinating its fourth and final bald eagle count of the season on Saturday March 10.
For more information, contact Eliason at firstname.lastname@example.org, Anne Poopatanapong at email@example.com, or Tammy Toral at firstname.lastname@example.org.