Big Bear Eagle History

Since before the Forest Service eagle counts started about 30 years ago, bald eagles only came to Big Bear in the winter, to find food when their home lakes further north were frozen over. But around 2009 a tagged juvenile from Catalina decided to spend the summer in Big Bear. We don’t know whether it was him or not (the tag was since gone), but a pair started staying year-round in Big Bear Valley and built a nest on the north side of the lake.

2012. The hatching of the first bald eagle chick ever hatched in Big Bear Valley, according to historical records.. The parents were called Ricky and Lucy. That chick was named Jack, after a long-time volunteer eagle counter. Before the chick fledged, it grew to be bigger than both its parents, meaning it had to be female. So, Jack’s name changed to Jackie. Jack/Jackie was not tagged, so we have not real way of knowing what happened to her or where she went.

That original nest was in the top of a dead tree. With the combination of Jackie’s flapping practice and a big wind storm, the nest blew down after Jackie fledged. Ricky and Lucy built another nest about 50 feet from where Jack/Jackie was raised.

2013.  Lucy laid eggs in this new nest, but the eggs did not survive an extreme cold spell and did not hatch.

2014.  Ricky and Lucy had two chicks, but neither survived a major 4-day rain and snow storm.

2015. Ricky and Lucy raised one chick in the nest that successfully fledged. That chick successfully fledged.  

Ricky and Shadow

The fall of 2015 Friends of Big Bear Valley installed the eagle nest cam. Unknown to us until a few months later, Ricky and Lucy had found a more sheltered tree and built a new nest about 1/4 mile from this one. They successfully raised 2 chicks–named Midnight and Sky (by the 3rd graders) while the nest with the camera on it sat empty.

2016.  Ricky and Lucy apparently left the area. Since neither is tagged, we do not know where they went or what might have happened to them. Also, none of Ricky and Lucy’s four known chicks were tagged or banded so we have no way to know where any of them might be.

From the time Jackie fledged, there was one sub-adult who was in Big Bear all summer each year that was the right age to be Jackie. Since the only other bald eagles in the valley during the summers were Ricky and Lucy, we determined that this sub-adult might be Jackie.

2017.  A sub-adult female the right age started hanging out at the nest deserted by Ricky and Lucy, we called her Jackie, with the idea that it was possibly that first chick, though that cannot be known for sure and may even be unlikely since chicks usually leave the area of their hatching.

Nevertheless, the name stuck and this sub-adult female, called Jackie took over the old nest with the cam on it, with a new mate, that the Forest Service named Mr. B. We have no idea where Mr. B might be from since he also is not tagged.

Jackie and Mr. B mated (on camera!), but Jackie did not lay eggs. Since she was only just five years old (determined by her feather coloration patterns), it is possible she was still too young.

2018. Jackie laid eggs, which hatched and were named (again by the 3rd graders), Stormy and BBB (for Big Bear Baby). BBB did not survive a severe 24-hour rain storm and the following freezing temperatures. The chicks at that point were 6-1/2 weeks old, too big to fit completely under their parents to stay dry and did not yet have all of their waterproof plumage, so we believe he died from exposure.

Stormy survived. And went on to worldwide fame thanks to U.S. Forest Service press releases that were picked up by the media. When Stormy was almost eight weeks old, he was banded, with a band on each ankle. To do the banding, we hired a specialist, tree-climbing raptor biologist with the proper federal and state permits—Joe Papp, working with eagle specialist, Peter Bloom, of Bloom Consulting. Stormy’s identifying band is purple with the number JR1 on it. Stormy fledged successfully on April 26th and left the Big Bear Valley a couple of months later.

During the summer when the eagle family was still using the nest with Stormy, an adult male intruder showed up to the nest and with great tenacity, refused to leave no matter how much Jackie, Mr. B and Stormy tried to chase him away. The new male was called Shadow because we initially believed him to be one of Ricky and Lucy’s fledglings named Shadow. Mr. B eventually left the area. It was later determined that this intruder eagle’s plumage showed it to be a year older than the Shadow who was hatched in Big Bear. But by then the name stuck and Shadow is the resident male eagle and Jackie’s current mate (and not her sibling).

2019.  Jackie laid her eggs on March 6 and 9th, and the eggs hatched on April 14 and 15th. The chicks were named Simba and Cookie. This time we opened a “name the chicks” fundraiser contest to the public.  Twenty-five names were drawn from the submissions, and again, the local 3rd graders voted for the two finalists. At six weeks old, Cookie did not survive a rain and snowstorm followed by freezing temperatures. Both Cookie and Simba were banded, Simba with ID # ZR1, Cookie #ZJ1. Both eaglets were determined to be males during the banding process. Simba fledged successfully on July 23rd and eventually left the Big Bear Valley.  He was last seen on August 18th.

2020.  Jackie laid her eggs on January 8 and 11th. The eggs failed to hatch and were determined non-viable. After incubating the eggs for more than 60 days, in mid-March Jackie and Shadow started leaving the eggs unattended for periods of time. This was normal behavior given the situation. A raven came to the nest, cracked the eggs and ate some of the contents. The eggs did not have any noticeable development; they were either not fertilized or development was stopped early on.  Jackie and Shadow continue to work on the nest and visit often.

2021.  Jackie laid the first egg of the 2021 season on January 6, but for unknown reasons Jackie & Shadow were not fully incubating or protecting the nest after this egg was laid. The next morning a raven destroyed that first egg. Jackie laid a second egg on January 9. She and Shadow incubated it a bit more than the first, but it was still often left unattended. On January 13 Jackie laid a 3rd egg that seemed to have been broken before the laying process was complete. After that, Jackie did not seem focused on incubating the egg #2 and it was eaten by a raven the next day.

In February, Jackie laid a 2nd clutch of eggs, the first one on the 8th and second one on the 11th. The eagles diligently incubated and protected this clutch. On March 18 the first egg started the hatching process. Even though we heard the eaglet’s chirps that evening, by the next morning we saw no progress in the hatching and no longer heard or saw any signs of life. The eaglet did not survive the hatching process. Jackie and Shadow continued to incubate the second egg. After 51 days of incubating (normal hatching time is usually 38 to 43 days), Jackie and Shadow started leaving this egg unattended for short periods of time. On April 17 a raven cracked that now-unviable egg open. It appeared that the chick had never fully developed.

Though the loss of the eggs seemed to impact Jackie and Shadow, they recovered over the next few days and continued to visit the nest. Since then they have visited the nest most days, often in the early morning or late afternoon, bringing sticks and nesting material and bonding as a pair.

2022.  Jackie laid her eggs on January 22nd and 25th. After a couple of rough seasons, one egg hatched on March 3rd! The remaining egg failed to hatch for unknown reasons and has become part of the nest. A fundraiser to name the chick was opened to the public, 35 names were randomly drawn, and the local 3rd grade classrooms voted on their favorite name.

Our 2022 chick was named Spirit! Spirit was not banded so the gender was a mystery. Over time and with a few indicators, such as ankle thickness, overall size, and vocal pitch, FOBBV believes Spirit is a female. Spirit stole the hearts of viewers around the world, and she fledged successfully on 5/31.

2023. Jackie laid her first egg of the season on January 11th and her 2nd egg on the14th while the nest camera was down due to a moderate snow and wind event. Jackie and Shadow diligently incubated the eggs with frequent discussions of who should get more time on the eggs! We had significant snow and rainfall this season which didn’t detour the eagles from their dedication to the eggs. 

After 47 days of incubating, (normal for the Big Bear nest is 35-39 days), Jackie spent her first night off the nest and Shadow filled in with overnight incubation duties. This started the process of slowly leaving the eggs unattended more and more. On March 7th, while the eggs were unattended, ravens came to the nest and breached both eggs. There was no obvious development seen, which indicates the eggs were either not fertilized or something stopped the development early on. We have no way of knowing either way. 

Jackie and Shadow continued to lay in the nest, adding sticks and tidying up, and we also saw and heard them mating often. Eventually with the valley warming up, the eagles moved into their summer vacation activities of spending most of their time away from the nest.