In honor of National Women’s History month, I thought I’d highlight a resilient, determined bird. Though she’s only about 4 years old, she’s made a splash in her short time in Alameda.
“Big Junior” is the female in our pair of bald eagles who are nesting for the first time in Alameda at the Corica Park Golf Course on Bay Farm Island. She needs all of her resiliency after the disastrous storm we had yesterday, with 60 mph wind gusts, heavy rain, and many trees down around the Island. Though their nest tree still stands, the nest itself was damaged and the eggs they were incubating, lost. The pair seems to be working this morning to repair the nest and hopefully will be successful in laying a new batch of eggs.
Big Junior’s beginnings were auspicious. She was born in Milpitas to a pair of bald eagles who began nesting in some redwood trees at Curtner Elementary School in 2017. In 2018, the pair became an internet sensation when the city mounted a camera on a utility pole allowing a view into the nest and broadcasting it on YouTube. Big Junior was hatched in March 2019 and had a brother, Little Junior. The siblings were the third set of offspring the Milpitas eagles fledged. Sadly, shortly after learning to fly on his own, Little Junior flew into high-voltage power lines and was killed.
Young raptors have a rough start with their inexperience working against them. It’s estimated that more than 50% of young bald eagles die in their first year. Though this seems astounding and cruel, they are the top predators in their food chain, and the ecosystem can’t support as many bald eagles as it can sparrows. Urban raptors also face many challenges that make their survival harder than eagles born in the wilderness—including traffic, power lines, and toxic pesticides that accumulate in their favorite foods.
Big Junior bears the scars of her early encounters with this rough world. She’s identifiable by the missing talon on her right foot, though it’s not known when she lost it. Eagles’ talons are vital to enabling them to catch their food. Big Junior seems fine with her remaining talons. She is skilled at catching large fish as well as ground squirrels, ducks, and other prey. Another of her identifying features is an unusual dark spot in her bright-yellow right eye. Eagles’ eyesight, along with their talons, make them formidable hunters. For example, they see four to five times farther than the average person. They can see rabbit-sized prey from 3 miles away!
Big Junior was injured and rescued when she was 2 to 3 years old. A hiker found her injured in an Oakland park. She had a broken shoulder bone and serious bruising on her back, perhaps from a collision. The hiker contacted Bay Raptor Rescue, where Craig Nikitas was able to capture and transport Big Junior to the Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Wildlife Hospital in Walnut Creek. You can see Big Junior’s photo upon her rescue at Eagles! — Bay Raptor Rescue. After several weeks of care, she was able to be released in the park where she was captured.
Though these are wild birds, they’ve benefited from caring humans who have helped them survive to this point. Currently there’s a small team of trained eagle monitors from the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve (a conservation committee of Golden Gate Audubon Society) who track the birds behavior and any impacts from humans, weather, or other wildlife. All bald eagles are protected by Federal law, with steep fines and prison time for anyone who harms them. We’ll be watching the eagles, hoping they’re able to successfully hatch and fledge their first brood of young eagles this year. You can join a free, guided bird walk to see the bald eagles and other birds through Golden Gate Audubon.
Editor’s note: A post to Instagram by user @billjohnphotography from Wednesday, March 22, states that the eagles’ nest survived Tuesday’s storm, but their clutch did not.
Sharol Nelson-Embry is a Board Member with the Golden Gate Audubon Society and co-chairs the Friends of the Alameda Reserve. She retired from the East Bay Regional Park District as Supervising Naturalist at the Doug Siden Visitor Center at Crab Cove, Crown Memorial State Beach. She currently has an online chocolate tasting business featuring “Bird-friendly” chocolates at www.cocoacase.com.