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Popular Alameda Birds Had Mixed Success in Raising Chicks in 2023

Last year started with much excitement because bald eagles were nesting in a tree on the Corica Golf Course. But the nest was precariously placed, leaving it vulnerable to violent winds. And we had a severe storm, which knocked down a key part of the nest, including the eggs. While the birds stayed for weeks, they did not re-nest. This year we’ve seen the male, but not the female, Big Junior, named by people watching the Milpitas nest where she was hatched.

In Alameda, 2023 was the year of failing trees, which affected the breeding success of some bird species of special interest to the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, the Alameda conservation committee of the Golden Gate Bird Alliance (formerly Audubon).

Alameda Post - a pair of bald eagles in a nest
A pair of bald eagles built a nest in a tree on the Corica Park Golf Course in late 2022, but a portion of the nest extended beyond the support provided by major branches. The eagles lost their eggs when a violent spring wind storm tore away part of the nest. Photo Rick Lewis.

Great blue herons nested at two locations last year. The first area was the dead cypress tree rookery in the Alameda Wildlife Reserve. Viewable from De-Pave Park, it had eight nests. The colony lost at least one nest when an adult tangled in fishing gear was seen hanging in the tree, literally unable to free itself. The mate was still brooding the young chicks, but the nest was empty days later.

The second nesting area was in coyote brush shrubs on the West Wetlands in the Alameda Wildlife Reserve. There were at least three and possibly four nests. This is a difficult, distant area that is attracting more herons. Their nests are hidden deep in shrubbery, so it was hard to determine the nests’ success. Young birds were often deep in nests until fledging, perhaps because red-tailed hawks roosted in the cypress trees and the coyote brush was low enough to attract ground mammals as well as raptors that would prey on eggs and young birds.

Alameda Post - a tree at Alameda Post with great blue heron nests in it
Several great blue herons build their nests in the same tree, and both adults and chicks may stand in or beside a nest. The tree has fewer branches than in past years, but still holds several nests. Photo Rick Lewis.

We saw least terns in Alameda near the time we expected them to arrive—late April—but nesting was delayed by weeks for unknown reasons. The first nest was seen on June 22. The annual Return of the Terns event was postponed until mid-July, in hopes that tour participants could see young terns. The tour was successful. As of August 10, the biologists had counted more than one hundred fledglings, but final numbers aren’t yet available. Also on the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, at least two pairs of horned larks nested and an observer reported seeing young birds at the end of the breeding season. Only authorized visitors and participants in Return of the Terns can see birds in this restricted area, but it’s good to know that some bird species are breeding there.

Alameda Post - an adult least tern feeds a chick a small fish
Because least terns eat fish by swallowing them whole, the young chicks need tiny fish, moving to slightly larger fish as they grow. This adult is offering a fish to its chick. Photo Rick Lewis.
Alameda Post - an adult least tern watched over a chick that is resting in an oyster shell
Least tern chick rests in an oyster shell, one of many scattered throughout the nesting colony to provide camouflage so predators, such as peregrine falcons, have a harder time identifying the chicks in the sandy area. Photo Rick Lewis.

The peregrine falcon pair returned to the Fruitvale Bridge, an elevated train bridge that crosses the estuary at Fruitvale Avenue. They hatched and successfully fledged three chicks in 2023 and all three were banded on the left leg. One female’s band is blue, one is yellow, and the male’s band is silver. While peregrine falcons fly fast, if you see one perched, look for a color band on the left leg.

Alameda Post - two peregrine falcons soar overhead
For several years Alameda residents could watch peregrine falcons flying overhead. They have nested on one or the other tower of the Fruitvale Bridge. Photo Rick Lewis.
Alameda Post - three juvenile peregrine falcon chicks sit atop metal stairs or scaffolding. One of them spreads its wings while the other two look on
In 2023, three peregrine falcon chicks, two females and one male, survived to leave the nest on their own. Colored bands were attached to their left legs so observers who can see the color of a band can identify these birds. Photo Rick Lewis.

The osprey pair that nested at Seaplane Lagoon also was highly successful, hatching three eggs and fledging three youngsters by early July. A pair nested at the Encinal Basin, and observers think they laid eggs, but for unknown reasons, no chicks survived. Maybe osprey nesting there will be successful this year.

Alameda Post - a large osprey nest on top of a pole
Two adult osprey and two partially-grown chicks can take up most of the space in an osprey nest. Three chicks fledged from the osprey nest at Seaplane Lagoon in 2023. Photo Rick Lewis.

Some people look every year for signs of other species nesting, especially black oystercatchers, but we’ve not found any nests. Maybe they will nest at De-Pave Park once it’s turned into a tidal marsh.

Alameda Post - a nest of double-crested cormorants
Three hungry chicks look to an adult double-crested cormorant for food in a nest in a tree beside Lagoon 3 in Alameda. Photo Rick Lewis.

Double-crested cormorants again nested in trees on the edge of Lagoon 3, across from South Shore Shopping Center on Otis Drive just west of Park Street, although at least one of their nesting trees was removed after it died. Likewise, the egret rookery on a Bay Farm Island lagoon is smaller because dead trees were removed after the nesting season a few years ago. But both great and snowy egrets raised chicks, if in smaller numbers than in earlier years.

Alameda Post - a parent feeds chicks in a great egret nest
Colony nesters, great egrets build their nests in trees near water, so they can easily bring fish to feed their growing chicks. Photo Rick Lewis.
Alameda Post - an adult and juvenile snowy egret in a tree
Snowy egrets nest in trees, often the same trees that host great egret nests. Smaller than great egrets, snowy egrets can be identified by their black bills and yellow or “golden” feet. Photo Rick Lewis.

If you notice a thread of dead trees along these lagoon areas, the nesting birds are to blame. Their poop is acidic, and it slowly kills the trees on which they nest, or roost at night in the months when they are not nesting. In urban areas, there may not be other trees nearby where the birds can move as their nesting trees die, forcing them to relocate to nest successfully.

Join us for free guided birdwatching adventures. For more information, visit the Golden Gate Bird Alliance website.

Marjorie Powell moved to Alameda from the East Coast in 2014. A member of Golden Gate Bird Alliance, she serves on its Alameda Conservation Committee, the Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Reserve, and tries to go birding frequently.

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