A photo by amateur photographer Breana Schmidt let San Francisco Zoo officials know that a bald eagle they released into the wild 20 years ago is still alive and well. (Special to S.F. Examiner/Breana Schmidt)

Chance encounter gives SF Zoo rare glimpse of a bald eagle it released 20 years ago

The photographer, Breana Schmidt of Anza, California read on Facebook that a bald eagle had been observed in the area

A bald eagle released by the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens two decades ago is alive and well in the wild, zoo officials learned after an amateur photographer had a chance encounter with the majestic bird recently.

The photographer, Breana Schmidt of Anza, California read on Facebook that a bald eagle had been observed in the area, and went out to shoot some photos, according to a written statement from the zoo. The photograph of the soaring eagle clearly showed two tags associated with the zoo and so Schmidt decided to investigate. She eventually forwarded the photos to zoo officials.

The bird was one of two female chicks that hatched in April 2000 and cared for by an adult pair at the Zoo’s Avian Conservation Center. After two to three weeks, the chicks were taken to Catalina Island and placed into wild nests where a a pair of wild eagles raised them.

“The photo sent to us was incredible, and gave us a chance to see one of the success stories from our program,” said Tanya Peterson, CEO and Executive Director of the San Francisco Zoological Society. “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.”

The SF Zoo’s Bald Eagle Recovery Program conducted with the Institute of Wildlife Studies and U.S. Fish and Wildlife ran from 1985 to 2007 and reintroduced 103 bald eagles. Thanks in part to the success of such captive breeding programs, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007.

As for Schmidt who aspires to be a wildlife photographer, she is thrilled that her Riverside County community is so excited about the broad-winged visitor.

“I grabbed my camera and ended up finding her being chased by a bunch of ravens and turkey vultures trying to steal her food,” said Schmidt. “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. I was astounded by her incredible wingspan and how effortlessly she flew.”

The bird, it turns out, has been well-traveled over the last 20 years.

“This female bred at Lake Hemet for quite a few years before apparently being displaced by another eagle,” said Peter Sharpe, Ph.D. from the Institute for Wildlife Studies, who has monitored the program’s eagles for decades. “She’s just been traveling around Southern California for the past few years.”

A live cam focuses on the west end nest on Catalina Island,

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