If “The Birdman of Alcatraz” could only see his prison island now.

On the grounds surrounding the fortress-like cellblock that once housed convicted murderer Robert Stroud, one might be able to spot nesting peregrine falcons and their fledgings, record numbers of breeding Brandt’s cormorants, pigeon guilemots and even a young bald eagle.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area biologists spied the juvenile eagle this week in the island’s trees, “a first for them,” according to a post on the GGNRA’s Instagram account.

Bald eagles are not rare in California. They can be found near lakes, reservoirs and rivers across the state, but until now, not on Alcatraz, or at least not in many years.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the popular tours of The Rock were halted five months ago. The sudden absence of human crowds undoubtedly contributed to the upswing in avian activity.

But the birds won’t have the island to themselves much longer. On Monday, Aug 17, limited tours of the historic landmark will resume. Visitors are invited back on the island, but they will have to stay outside. They won’t have access to the main cellblock, where the likes of Al “Scarface” Capone, Machine-Gun Kelly and the first Public Enemy No. 1, Alvin Karpis served their sentences.

Alcatraz averaged nearly 6,000 visitors a day before the epidemic. However, the ferries to the island operated by Alcatraz Cruises will now limit passengers to 150 per trip rather than the capacity of 600-700.

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Repost from @parksconservancy • 🦅 The eagle has landed, we repeat, the eagle has landed 🦅 This week, a first year (born this year) bald eagle was spotted by park biologists in the trees on Alcatraz, a first for them on the island. In the absence of people, many other birds of Alcatraz have also been spreading their wings and nesting: 🐦 2 nesting peregrine falcons and their 2 fledglings. (For more, see the link in our bio). 🐦 2,300 breeding pairs of Brandt’s cormorants had a record year, likely due to the strong upwelling of cold, nutrient dense, and fish packed waters. 🐦 6 nesting great blue herons. 🐦 Pigeon guilemots even nested in some abandoned pipes. 🐦 Western gulls are finishing up their nesting with their downy, spotted chicks. Whenever you’re visiting the parks, it’s critical to stay a large distance away from wildlife like birds. If you want a closer look at some of our amazing birds, consider bringing a pair of binoculars whenever you visit the parks! . . (📷 1: Juvenile Bald Eagle: Zoe Burr / Farallons Institute) (📷 2: Brandt’s cormorant : NPS) (📷 3: Pigeon guilemot : NPS) . . . #ParksConservancy #GGNRA #alcatraz #alcatrazisland #ilovealcatraz #alcatrazhistory #alcatrazcruises #birdsofinstagram #birdsofalcatraz #birdpics #peregrinefalcons #birdwatching

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Ferry passengers will have their temperatures taken before boarding. Masks are mandatory while aboard, but not on the island unless social distancing cannot be maintained.

A new downloadable audio tour of the island’s outdoor attractions is reportedly being developed for visitors to replace the prison audio tour.

And, of course, for the ornithologically inclined, there’s never been a better time for bird watching.

ALSO: There are hidden buildings and tunnels below Alcatraz’s prison yard, study finds

Alcatraz, a Civil War fort that was converted to a federal maximum security prison in 1934, quickly gained the reputation for being America’s toughest penitentiary. It was said to be unescapable, a claim still disputed as the prisoners involved in the infamous 1962 “Escape from Alcatraz” — Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin — remain on the U.S. Marshals Service’s wanted list.

The official report on the case concluded that the three inmates drowned in the San Francisco Bay’s frigid waters.

Saddled by high operating costs and deterioration of structures from years of salt spray, Alcatraz closed for good in 1963.


Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE Reporter. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate

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