Travel Blog

February 3, 2017

Eagles Have Landed: Santa Cruz’s Favorite Celebrity Couple

Photo courtesy of Lisa Sheridan Photography

Santa Cruz’s latest celebrity couple sighting isn’t Kim and Kanye or anyone from Hollywood for that matter. The celebrated duo is a pair of bald eagles nesting at Harkins Slough in Watsonville. If that doesn’t make your heart flutter, then you have yet to discover how significant it is.

The iconic white-domed raptor appears on coins and stamps but rarely in Santa Cruz. Sightings are far and few between and nesting occurrences are even less frequent. When the United States was founded, the national bird thrived throughout the Americas. But by the 1960s, bald eagles were put on the endangered species list thanks to a deadly combination of DDT, hunting, and habitat loss. Yet ever since the Ventana Wildlife Society began reintroducing bald eagles in Big Sur in the 1980s, they’ve made a strong come back. In 2007, the eagles were removed from the threatened and endangered species list.

“We’re really excited to have them in Santa Cruz,” says Jonathan Pilch of the Watsonville Wetlands Watch. “For the past 25 years, we’ve been working to preserve California’s third largest wetland system and improve habitat. This is a great sign of success.”

Here are some cool facts about bald eagles. First, they’re not bald (but you already knew that, right?). Their name derives from an antiquated definition of the word “bald” which simply meant “white-headed.” Also, they construct the biggest nest of any creature on earth. At their largest, their nests can stretch 8 feet wide, 13 feet deep and literally weigh a ton!

Local birdwatchers and biologists believe the recent pair includes the same female eagle that was first spotted with a different mate in 2012. At that time, the original bald eagle pair caused quite a stir among birders until the male eagle perished in a tangle of power lines. That’s why observers were excited to see the female eagle return this year with a new mate. The current twosome assembled their nest at Harkins Slough to take advantage of the abundance of yummy fish swimming in its waters.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Sheridan Photography

The eagles set up shop near a nest of ospreys who are less enthused about their arrival. Local bird photographer Lisa Sheridan says territorial disputes began as soon as the eagles moved in. “I was standing under the osprey nest when an eagle circled overhead. The osprey went on high alert and took to the sky,” she says of her dramatic photo above.

Even if you don’t think birdwatching is your thing, you owe it to yourself to visit the awesome sloughs of South County. You’ve likely zipped past them unknowingly on Highway One a hundred times. Yet despite their proximity to the highway, the wondrous waterways remain a meditative respite as well as a great place to watch a Vegas-worthy show of water birds.

So where can you view these famous bald eagles? It’s a little tricky since there is no public access to their nesting site. Jonathan Pilch suggests visiting a nearby slough with public access and watch for them flying overhead. The best option is Struve Slough whose scenic waterfront trail is easily accessed via the West Marine parking lot in Watsonville. Watsonville Wetlands Watch also hosts free tours throughout the summer and fall (check their site for details).

For more ideas of where to spot birds in Santa Cruz County, check out our handy guide.

Photo courtesy of Pete Sole