I knew birds were going to be a part of my life since I was eight. I was visiting my grandmother in India and had heard of barn owls that would perch outside her window. I had never seen a barn owl before then, so I was mildly excited. But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. And heard. Because I could have sworn it called my name. Shreeee, it had said, looking me straight in the eye with its own beautiful, black craters, stark against the white moon of its face.
Since then, that was it. Astronomer? Inventor? Who cares. I was going to be an ornithologist when I grew up. These birds were so beautiful, and I had always been fascinated by their silent flight. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks there is something mesmerizing about the idea of flight. Which is why whenever my cousins and I got together and played role-play games, I always chose a golden eagle as my mount. They could have their wolf named Steamboat, or their Doedicurus named Puppy; I got to ride bravely into battle on Goldfeather, the noble golden eagle.
I had always associated these birds with Everywhere-Else-But-Here. My mother often tells a story of a family vacation when I was not yet five years old. We were snowshoeing in the wilderness of Canada. You could call it snowshoeing, or you could call it loping around like a bunch of penguins, with the occasional face-fall. My parents and I were at our collective wits’ end, lost, cold, hungry, dragging our hearts behind us with our clumsy feet. And just as all hope was lost, a golden eagle flew overhead. A beacon to remind us we were meant to be in the wilderness and all was well.
It seems I’ve always known about golden eagles, but the fact that I first heard about them existing in San Diego at age fifteen is heartbreaking. What’s more, the first time that I heard about them, I find out that their local population is declining; here in San Diego, it has fallen by about 50% in the last 100 years.
I write as an Advocate with the San Diego Audubon’s Advocacy program, to speak for these birds who cannot speak for themselves. San Diego is perfect for golden eagles, because it is a place that they can stay year round, but their extremely shy nature and need for large territory makes us humans a threat to them. One of the greatest dangers that these birds face in San Diego is that of human encroachment into their territory. These impressive six-foot-wingspan raptors have territories that can extend from twenty to thirty square miles, and they need to use all of it to both rear young and feed.
Our team of the Audubon Advocacy program is working to protect the pair of golden eagles that nest in Bandy Canyon within the Ramona Grasslands Preserve, where recreational trails threaten their continued existence.
In the last several years, an additional trail within the Preserve has been opened to hikers, bikers and horseback riders - the Old Survey Road, which runs parallel to the nesting site and falls within the 1-mile buffer that is suggested by wildlife agencies in order to prevent human activities from impacting nesting birds. While there have been some efforts to relocate this trail further from the nesting area, and to create a docent program, many golden eagle experts are still concerned about the impacts of human activity on the golden eagles that use the area for nesting, resting and foraging.
Bandy Canyon has been one of the most reliably successful nesting sites in the County, with records of eagles using this site dating back to the end of the 19th century. It is up to us to advocate for a common sense solution, that allows for recreation in appropriate areas, without impacting this already declining species.
The San Diego Audubon Advocates and our partners with the Wildlife Research Institute are working to preserve the golden eagles of Bandy Canyon and the Ramona Grasslands Preserve. Additionally, here are some ways you can protect these beautiful creatures.
- Discover more about golden eagles for yourself, to understand just how important they are to our ecosystems:
- Talk to your pest control company to make sure they understand the impact of rodenticides on golden eagles and other raptors. Rodenticides often cause secondary poisoning and even death among non-target predators, and reduce natural rodent control.
- Join the San Diego Audubon Society as we advocate for golden eagles and all birds in San Diego County - we will be posting more action items soon!