Big Bear Lake, CA, March 8, 2014 – Migrating bald eagles love to winter in the San Bernardino Mountains with most of them choosing Big Bear Lake as their winter home. They’re usually found near water because their diet is primarily made up of fish and ducks. Sometimes during particularly cold nights, Coots, a breed of bird on our lake, will get stuck in the ice which make them easy prey for the eagles, earning them the nickname, Cootsicles.
Once on the brink of extinction, breeding populations of bald eagles in Southern California had been completely wiped out by the late 1950s and the southern-most nest site known in California was north of San Francisco in Lake County. Reintroduction efforts began in the 1980s on Catalina Island. In fact, a female hatched at the San Francisco Zoo in 2000 was released on Catalina and in 2004 made her way to Lake Hemet and decided to take up year round residence with the male eagle already there. However, the first successful bald eagle nesting ever recorded in the San Bernardino Mountains happened right here in Big Bear Lake.
Through radio tracking, biologists have learned that many of the same individual eagles return year after year. Some of our eagles were tracked all the way to the Northwest Territories in Canada which is a 2000 mile trip one-way, while others only go as far as the Channel Islands. The bald eagle is a success story of the federal Endangered Species Act and as bald eagles raise families in southern California, it’s now possible to see them year round here in Big Bear.