The San Francisco Zoo & Gardens said Monday that a bald eagle released into the wild two decades ago was recently photographed in the wild.
The eagle was one of two female chicks placed in a wild eagle nest on Catalina Island in 2000, part of the zoo's Bald Eagle Recovery Program. Through a partnership with the Institute for Wildlife Studies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the program reintroduced 103 bald eagles to the wild from 1985 to 2007.
Breana Schmidt, an aspiring wildlife photographer in Anza, sought out the bird after seeing members of her town's Facebook page discussing its local presence. Schmidt said she first saw the bird being chased by a group of ravens and turkey vultures attempting to steal her food.
"The eagle landed in a yard across from a field at an intersection so I walked the field and got as close as I could, watched her eat and took pictures for about 20 minutes," Schmidt said. "I was astounded by her incredible wingspan and how effortlessly she flew."
Schmidt contacted the zoo after learning of a tag on her wing from the recovery program. The bird had been hatched at the zoo in April 2000 and, after about three weeks, was taken to Catalina Island to be raised in the wild.
The Institute for Wildlife Studies' Peter Sharpe, who has monitored the program's eagles for decades, said the bird bred at Lake Hemet before being displaced by another eagle and has been traveling around Southern California in recent years. Anza is located about 45 miles southwest of Palm Springs.
"The photo sent to us was incredible, and gave us a chance to see one of the success stories from our program," San Francisco Zoological Society CEO and executive director Tanya Peterson said. "The fact that this particular female is still thriving in the wild almost 20 years to the month of its hatching marks a significant milestone and one we are happy to celebrate today."