2004 Updates on Condors

These updates are from 2004, for current information, visit our update page.

December 8, 2004
All of the second cohort of birds have been released. They are continuing to work on their flight skills and have been staying close to the release pen. Condor 307 has been the most adventurous, venturing out of the park for days at a time, roosting in trees and on peaks near the park’s boundaries.

Unlike the first group of birds to be released at Pinnacles, the younger birds have not shown an inclination to visit the High Peaks. If you’re hoping to see on the of younger birds in flight, the best place to look is in the vicinity of the Pinnacles Campground, which is located just outside the east entrance. The best time to watch for them is between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, when they are preparing to roost for the evening.

November 13, 2004
On Friday, November 12th, Condor 312 was released and 313 was rereleased (he was captured during the process of trying to get 278 back into the flight pen). This brings us to a total of 5 free-flying condors: 286, 307, 310, 312 and 313. As we had hoped, 286 is showing the newly released condors to the food we place for them and leading them to good roosting trees near the flight pen. In fact, 286 spends all of his time hanging out with the newly released condors, all of which are doing quite well. 307 is the only one that has made a big trip out of the park. She spent a few days outside the park’s boundaries and then made her way back to the flight pen. As soon as 312 and 313 find the feeding area and are roosting in trees we will release the last two condors in this cohort.

We have recaptured last year’s cohort because three of the condors were seen landing on power poles or telephone poles. 286 will soon join the rest of his comrades in the flight pen for a short training session that will hopefully teach them not to land on power poles.

November 8, 2004
The younger birds that were released in October are doing very well outside the flight pen. They are roosting on snags at night and practicing their flight skills by day. It's still not possible to see the younger birds from the trail system, but within the next month or so, it may be possible to see them as their flight skills improve and they take longer flights.

Three more birds will be released this week: condors 306, 312, and 317. They are all female birds, and all have been fitted with GPS transceivers.

Condor 278 was trapped so that he could participate in power pole aversion training. Condor 313 was staying close to 278, and entered the double-door trap right along with him. Biologists didn't want to pass up the opportunity to catch 278, so they decided to close the trap on both birds. 313 will be rereleased Wednesday with the rest of the younger birds.

286 was also slated for retrapping and power pole training, but he has shown no signs of perching on poles and generally stays within the park, so biologists decided to let him remain free.

November 1, 2004
Condors 310 and 313 have joined 307 outside the flight pen. They were released Friday morning, and spent the weekend working on their flying skills near the condor facility. Condor 286 has remained in the area and associates closely with the birds, showing his dominance during feeding times.

278 and 286 are the only two of the previously released condors that are still flying free, and they will be recaptured for a short period for power pole aversion training to avoid the chance that they will pass on the poel perching behavior to newly released birds.

Three more females will be released in the next week or two. Although the viewing area is now closed to the public, the birds will soon be seen from the trail system at Pinnacles. About a month after the last release, condors were seen in the High Peaks area.

This winter, we are expecting the arrival of six more juvenile birds. This third group will likely be released in 2005.

October 28, 2004
About 150 people came to Pinnacles on October 28th to see the release of a second group of California condors. Only one of the three condors that was scheduled to be released decided to enter the double door trap.

As people at the viewing area looked on through spotting scopes and binoculars, condor 307 stepped out of the flight pen and onto a snag just outside, joining condor 286, who had been perched on the same snag for much of the day. 286 is one of the first group of birds that was released at Pinnacles in January of this year.

After a few minutes, 307 made a graceful flight around the flight pen and surrounding ridge, landing on a higher snag. During a later flight, 307 landed near the ground, but managed to make it up to a higher snag.

307 was not originally slated for release this month because she had injured her beak inside the flight pen in September. She didn't feed well for a few days, but then the rough edges of her beak smoothed down and she was judged to be well enough for release.

Condors 310 and 313 could also have been released, but they did not choose to enter the double-door trap. We chose to do a "soft release" using a cage with two doors that allows condors to leave the pen without being physically trapped by humans. They enter a cage from the flight pen, and then the inner door is closed and the outer door is opened. Ideally, all of the birds scheduled for release will decide to enter the trap on the first day, but it can take up to a few days for all of them to leave the pen.

October 28th is the only day that the viewing area will be open to visitors.

October 13, 2004
Free-flying Birds
In September, a local landowner noticed a condor roosting on a power pole and contacted Pinnacles. Biologists located Condor 266 and began monitoring him more closely, and found that he roosted twice more on power poles. Condors 270 and 278 were also found to be roosting on power or telephone poles. The birds will be recaptured, and the next release has been delayed until October 28th so that condor staff can begin to address the issue.

In the flight pen, there is a mock power pole that delivers a slight electric shock when a bird lands on it. The pole was put into place to teach the condors to avoid perching on power and telephone poles. The mock pole in the flight pen is being modified to look more like the poles that the condors have been perching on. Also, two posts just outside the pen will be converted into mock poles and electrified.

Condor 278 was recaptured once before because it appeared he was not feeding well. He was re-released about a month ago, and was doing great. He had no problems reintegrating with the other condors, but was recently observed perching on a telephone pole.

Condor 270 has also been recaptured once already this summer. Biologists were holding him because blood tests showed slightly increased levels of lead, but no problems developed and the levels decreased. After his release, he was healthy and doing well until he was observed perched on a power pole.

One other condor has been recapture because of a problem with his tracking equipment. Condor 287 is the only condor at Pinnacles fitted with a GPS transceiver that allows biologists to closely monitor his movements, but it has recently stopped working and needs to be replaced.

Condors in the Flight Pen
Biologists noticed that condor 307 had chipped the end of her beak, and was not active or feeding. After a few days, the rough edges of the beak had been smoothed away and she resumed her normal behavior. If we had released condors on October 15th as we had planned, she would not have been a candidate for release, but biologists feel that she may be ready because of the additional time.

Improvements to the Release Facility
At one of the feeding sites, a small, mobile electric fence that had been installed to protect condors and carcasses that they eat was not large enough to keep predators away. The Pinnacles Trail Crew replaced the small fence with a larger and higher fence that should do a better job of keeping animals out. Within a day or two, a coyote was found inside the fence, and it’s thought that it may have gotten inside before the fence was complete. Biologists will flush the coyote out of the area and then continue to monitor the boundary for predator activity.

August 18, 2004
On Sunday, August 15, Biologists noticed an adult condor outside the condor facility, and became concerned that the mentor bird had escaped the flight pen. The bird turned out to be Condor 199, an adult from Big Sur who made the journey over to Pinnacles to check out the new birds in the neighborhood. Condor 199 has remained in the area ever since, and some of the Pinnacles juvenile birds have joined him on trips outside the monument.

Biologists are working to rerelease condors 270 and 278. 270 was recaptured for lead testing and was kept in the facility because of an obstruction in his throat. Condor 278 was recaptured when biologists noticed that he was missing three tail feathers. Two of the feathers have since grown back.

July 28, 2004
The condors that are living in the wild are continuing to expand their range. They often stay away from the monument for as long as six days, though they can also travel long distances and return in a single day. They have been seen as far south as Hwy 198, and north near the town of Hollister.

Last month, biologists became concerned about the possibility of lead poisoning when the condors were seen eating carcasses along Hwy 25. Four birds were captured and tested for lead. Results from lab tests showed that two of the condors probably ingested lead, but their blood lead levels were not high enough to require chelation (a therapy that removes lead from blood). One of the affected birds, condor 270, had an obstruction in his throat, so he was held in the flight pen for observations. A second blood test was run for 270 to ensure that his lead level was decreasing. An increasing lead level would be a sign indicating the possibility of serious lead poisoning, which requires treatment. The second test showed lower levels, and 270 will be released soon.

Other than condor 270, there are currently nine other birds in the flight pen. Six of them are new to Pinnacles; two are from the San Diego Zoo and four are from the Los Angeles Zoo. Hoi, the adult mentor bird, is teaching these birds the skills they will need to survive in the wild. Their tentative release date is in mid-October.

Condor 278 was recaptured this spring because he was missing three tail feathers. Biologists wanted to make sure that the feathers would molt and then grow back naturally. Two of the feathers have molted, and 278 will be released soon.

Condor 265 was recaptured this spring because of behavioral problems, and is currently living in the flight pen. He had been approaching hikers and climbers, a dangerous behavior for wild condors. Biologists considered sending him to the Oregon Zoo for a while, but for logistical reasons this will not be possible.

July 16, 2004
The condors have been steadily increasing their range, and are making longer flights throughout San Benito and Monterey counties. They have been returning to feed on carcasses in the monument, but lead poisoning is always a concern now that they are spending more time away.

During the last month, all four free-flying condors were trapped so that they could be tested for lead poisoning. Initial field tests show that their lead levels are acceptably low, but we are awaiting more accurate lab test results.

April 14, 2004
Much has happened since the last update. Number 287 continues to roam ever farther from the park, with the most recent wanderings being documented by his GPS transmitters and verifying that his movements over the last 2 months have encompassed almost 300 square miles in and adjacent to the Monument. Meanwhile, both #265 and #278 have been recaptured using the double-door trap feature of the flight pen, which allows biologists to let condors come and go from the pen without physically capturing them. The concerns that led to the captures were different for each bird. Number 265 has been approaching hikers and climbers to within very close range (2 feet) on at least 5 occasions, and had shown no tendency towards ceasing this behavior. The hope is that by holding him for a while, he will have be taken out of the social interactions of the other free-ranging birds, and lose his high ranking status in the overall condor pecking order. When released, he will have to spend more time and work harder to maintain his place in the dominance hierarchy and have less time and/or inclination to approach humans. The concern with #278 was that he was not competing well with the other birds for food and his physical condition was deteriorating to the point where he was taking unacceptable chances with predators. This was suggested by an observation where he had narrowly missed being grabbed by a coyote near a feeding site where #278 had approached food when the predator was nearby. The other birds were avoiding the site at that point because they had seen the coyote, but #278 went down to the food, perhaps because he thought that he would be able to feed better without the other birds there. He has regained weight since capture and is doing well. The other 4 remaining free-flying birds are feeding well, roaming widely, and not approaching people or buildings.

March 12, 2004
Since the last update, we have transferred 2 new birds from the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, north of Ventura, to the Pinnacles flight pen. They have settled in without incident, and the adult mentor bird, Hoi, has accepted the birds without excessive negative interaction. Immediately following the release of the new captive birds from their transfer carriers, the 6 released birds exhibited heightened curiosity in the form of spending the next several days in close proximity of the captive birds. In fact, 5 of the birds roosted right on the flight pen during one night!

On a worrisome note, several of the birds have begun to approach visitors in the High Peaks area along trail areas and roosting in perches that are too accessible to approach. On 2 known occasions, #65 approached climbers on Machete Ridge, coming to within 2 feet of the nervous visitors. While condors do not attack people, just the presence of a 25 pound bird with a 9-1/2 foot wingspan, razor-sharp bill and imposing claws can be a frightening proposition to an unsuspecting climber just summiting a rock. In addition, several birds landed at a rest stop at a popular trail junction, and were subsequently surrounded by a curious throng of visitors. As mentioned in the last update, every time a bird is closely approached by people, it’s chances at continued freedom in the wild decrease. Everyone can do their part by remembering to not approach or feed condors, and in the event that condors approach you, move back at least 100 feet from them.

Whenever birds are discovered too close to people, they are being “hazed” with super-soaker squirt guns in an attempt to teach the birds to maintain greater distance between themselves and hikers/climbers. It will be very important to teach the impressionable birds this lesson so that they don’t put themselves in situations that threaten their survive once they roam outside the park in coming months. In other locations where condors have approached people too closely they have been shot, died of drinking antifreeze left on the ground by a leaky radiator, and narrowly missed being hit by cars while feeding on roadkill alongside a busy highway.

February 19, 2001
Quite a bit has happened in the last week. A pair of golden eagles were seen copulating near Drywall Slide and appear to be establishing a nest in Grassy Canyon. We have not observed any aggressive behavior toward the condors from either bird in this pair, but there is at least one juvenile golden eagle in the release area that chases and stoops condors in flight. The condors have done a fine job of out-maneuvering and evading this eagle.

Since the condors are spending a significant amount of their time in the High Peaks, including roosting, we are beginning to observe some human/condor interactions. We received two reports over the weekend of condors approaching climbers on top of rocks and observed visitors approaching condors perched on rocks both near and well away from the trail. Please remember that it is essential for the condors to keep from associating with humans. Each condor has one chance at life in the wild. Every time a person approaches a condor for a better look or a photo that bird’s chances of success will decrease. If you see condors approaching people, please contact a ranger at the visitor center or ranger station.

Condor #278 made his first flight to the High Peaks on Tuesday the 17th. With the rain and poor flight conditions he is still there as are all the other birds except one. Condor # 266 was somewhere in the Frog Canyon area this morning. As 278’s trip to the High Peaks indicates he is improving daily and though his development has been a little slower than the other condors he is doing a great job in the wild.

February 11, 2004
The last several days of clear, warm weather have provided ideal conditions for the condors to practice their flying skills. Many visitors witnessed a group of four condors flying over the High Peaks area over the weekend, along with the much smaller turkey vultures, giving folks a great opportunity to compare the two species. All six birds caught thermals this afternoon, spirally 1,500 feet above the release facility, before aiming their sights again towards the High Peaks. All but #278 then charted a glide path towards the Peaks and soon became tiny spots in the distance as they soared away. While #278 didn’t join them this time around, he has been integrating with the rest of the group much better, as evidenced by feeding at the carcass in close proximity to the rest of the group, approaching #266 to preen, and roosting together with the other 5 birds in their favorite night roost pine. The birds continue to feed well, with 2 birds registering weights in excess of 23 pounds, as measured by the birds’ perching on a scale set up next to the release facility.

February 5, 2004
The last few days have brought some rainy weather, more interactions of condors and other birds such as raven, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks, and continued improvement in flight skills and exploring more country. During the rains of 2/2 and 2/3, the birds spent much of the time hunkered down, but nonetheless also made some brief forays into the heavy rain and high winds. A golden eagle was observed diving at a few of the condors, which caused evasive manuevers by some individuals, and in one case the eagle perched briefly on the same branch with a condor. Ravens also took turns harassing the much larger condors. On February 3rd, 5 of the birds took off as a group in a different direction than they have flown before, returning 45 mins later. The birds appear to be approaching the carcass feeding site much more cautiously, sometimes taking 30 mins to examine the carcass before approaching it to feed. This is a positive behavior, since it is in their best interest to not approach food until they are sure no other predators are near that could make the condors become “lunch.”

January 30, 2004
Condors #265, 266, 270, and 286 are developing their flight skills as they fly over the campground - often for more than 20 minutes – making this the best location to view the birds. These four are now able to gain significant altitude, and at times disappear into low-lying clouds. Condor #287 is still the only bird that visits the High Peaks regularly. These five birds usually roost in a conspicuous gray pine on the ridge just behind the campground. The flight pen is still comforting to #278 who spends most of his time in that area. He roosts on the posts of the flight pen but often flies over the ridge with the other condors.

As you may already know, we will be getting six more condors from the L.A. Zoo. The condors at the zoo were moved from the pen with their parents to a pen with other juvenile condors two weeks ago. The zoo usually socializes the birds for a month or two before they are transferred to a release site, so the new condors may not arrive until March. We have not established a date for the transfer yet but will pass that along once it is determined.

January 28, 2004
The last week has brought significant changes, as all six birds are now free from the release facility. The birds have really improved their flying skills demonstrably, with two birds embarking on impressive 2-3 hour long afternoon flights over the High Peaks.

Bird #287 has proven himself to be the most adept flyer, with #270 second strongest, and #265, 266, and 286 close behind. Bird #278 was the last bird to be released from the flight pen and is still working on his flying techniques.

Project crew members breathed a collective sigh of relief when the birds started to roost in trees at night, instead of sleeping on the ground, thus reducing the likelihood of being eaten by nocturnal predators. And finally, the birds wasted no time in finding the calf carcass that had been placed at the newly established feeding site. This new location was chosen to be quite close to the flight pen, yet far enough away that the birds were faced with approaching a novel feeding arrangement. These skills are important for scavenging birds to develop so that they can hone in on new food sources as they soar over the countryside.

January 26, 2004
The last juvenile condor, 286, was released on Saturday evening, and has been doing well out of the pen. He has been roosting in trees each night, and staying near the release facility.

January 23, 2004
Another condor was released Wednesday afternoon. Condor 278 entered the double-door trap at about 12:30, and after leaving the flight pen, spent the rest of the afternoon making short practice flights around the facility. Later that evening, 278 slowly made his way up the outside of the release pen and roosted on top of it for the night.

All of the other released birds are doing well in the wild. 287 has been making long practice flights to the High Peaks each afternoon, which is excellent news for the condor biologists. 270 is also doing well, and has been seen at least once in the High Peaks. 266 and 265 are making longer flights, but are staying closer to the release facility. All of the birds have been roosting in trees and off the ground at night.

If you'd like to try to see a condor while you're visiting Pinnacles, the best place would be the High Peaks or Condor Gulch Trails in the afternoon. Check in at the Bear Gulch Visitor Center for more information.

During the next few days, condor biologists will keep trying to release 286, the last juvenile bird to remain in the pen. A new group of six condors will be arriving in the park sometime in February. This group will be males and females.

January 12, 2004
Earlier this week, biologists were concerned about condor 286 because it had been roosting on the ground, instead of in a tree or on a cliff where it would be safe from predators. The biologists decided to recapture the bird and return it to the flight pen. 286 was lured back into the double-door trap with food, and is now living in the pen.

The other condors are doing well in the wild. 287, the first bird to be released, has been venturing away from the release area and returning every few days to eat. This is the behavior that biologists were hoping for.

The three other birds (265, 266, and 270) have been roosting on the release facility each night and are staying close to the area during the day. They are seldom apart for more than a few minutes. After they are in the wild a little longer, biologists are hoping that they will follow 287's lead and venture farther from the release area.

January 5, 2004
On Monday, January 5th, four birds were released from the flight pen, which makes a total of five condors soaring the skies of Pinnacles. All of the juveniles except 278 are now living outside the release pen. On Monday afternoon, the birds were all staying close to the release area, and were being closely monitored by park biologists.

Last month, two birds were released around 2:30 pm on Saturday, December 20th. Biologists were within an hour of calling off the release for the second day in a row when numbers 287 and 278 ventured into the double-door trap. The two condors emerged from the facility only minutes after being faced with freedom.

Both 278 and 287 decided to not venture far in their first flight. Both stayed in the general area of the holding facility. The birds flew for about two hours before settling down to roost for the evening. Both birds' roosting sites were closely monitored by biologists and volunteers to ensure the birds were in a safe location. Monitoring continued into the early evening.

The viewing site is closed to the public, however, there are opportunities to view the birds from the trail system. In the future, we're planning to continue to provide access to the public for condor releases. Another group of birds will be arriving in the park next year.

For more detailed updates, visit the Ventana Wilderness Society.

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