Endangered bald eagles are making a comeback in the San Francisco Bay Area as part of a national boom following decades of environmental investment.

Nineteen nests have been tallied in eight Bay Area counties, including at Stanford University, a mall and a water park, The Mercury News in San Jose reported this week.

Fifty years ago, the bird seemed destined to become a memory until official protection and pesticide restrictions were put in place. Now, residents who know the location of their nests watch the eagles soar and make predictions about when eggs will hatch.

'They're real majestic. Talons big as my hands,' said Ruben Delgadillo, who sees eagles when he picks up his grandson from a school south of San Francisco.

Records are sparse about bald eagles' early populations in the Bay Area. An atlas shows a nest in 1915 south of San Francisco was the last evidence of local nesting until the current recovery. By the mid-1960s, fewer than 30 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained in California - and they were all in the northern third of the state.

The Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 helped reverse their fate. People who shot the birds were punished, and a 1972 ban halted the use of a pesticide that disrupted eagle reproduction.

The fish-loving birds got another boost with the onset of man-made reservoirs stocked with bass, catfish and trout.

To re-establish breeding populations in central California, conservationists in 1987 began importing chicks from Canada and Alaska and releasing them into the Big Sur wilderness.

'That was our seed stock,' said Glenn Stewart, director of the UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group. 'We harvested 6- to 7-week-old eaglets and released them, 10 to 12 per year.'

Now, 371 eagle breeding nests or 'territories' have been recorded in California, although they may not be used every year, said Carie Battistone, statewide raptor coordinator at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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