• Big-berry manzanita and the skyline of the high peaks greet visitors who explore the steep and narrow portion of the High Peaks trail. NPS Photo|Sierra Willoughby

    Pinnacles

    National Park California

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2010/2011 Condor Updates

November 27, 2011

As we rapidly approach the month of December, the Condor Crew thought it might be time for a quick update. As you all know, we started releasing our cohort of captive-reared condors back in late September with the Condor Comeback event. By the end of October, we released the last of the four birds. They have all been doing quite well getting used to their newfound freedom to fly! We will continue to keep a special eye on these four through the winter, but should expect them all to make the trek across the Salinas Valley to the Big Sur coast by next spring. Another exciting bit of news is that the nestling that has been growing up in a nest on a private ranch outside of the park has fledged! She seems to be taking short flights each day and we all look forward to the day that she shows up at the park. For those of you that like to keep track of these things, she is condor # 598. Our last bit of news is rather sad. A week ago, a 2-year old condor that was managed by the Ventana Wildlife Society was found dead on a private ranch outside of the park. We do not know the cause of death at this time, but hope that more information can be determined from analyses at the San Diego Zoo.

August 20, 2011

After a busy nesting and trapping season in the spring, we have come away with one active condor nest in San Benito County. We are again having a public release event this fall on September 24, for more information please see the Events page. There are four juveniles to be released into the wild in 2011. Three are males from the Peregrine Fund's breeding facility in Boise, Idaho. The fourth is a female that already spent its first month of life at Pinnacles. Condor # 550 was the nestling from the 2010 condor nest inside the park. Unfortunately, she had to be evacuated due to high levels of lead in her blood. Her lead levels were returned to normal while at the L.A. Zoo and she will finally be able to take her first flight in the wild this autumn.

January 14, 2011

Greetings All, Here's a quick update on what's been going on in the condor world at Pinnacles. In the past three months, the 2010 cohort was released, the remaining two central California nests fledged, and we're starting to see breeding displays between condors. Finally, we are happy to report that there were no condor mortalities in central California in 2010! Last October and November, we released four captive-bred juvenile condors. All four have integrated into the flock nicely and begun to take longer flights. They are regularly seen feeding alongside older condors at the bait station. In central California, this year turned out to be a slow breeding year for condors. Only two nests proved successful, one in the Big Sur area and the other in Los Padres National Forest. The Los Padres pair included a Pinnacles-released female. Their nest was so remote that we did not actively monitor the nest. Instead we relied upon the information provided by the satellite tracking units on each adult to determine if their nestling was faring well. When the nestling was approximately 120 days old, we hiked out to the nest to affix a radio transmitter. In the following months, Ventana Wildlife Society flew a plane over the area to determine if the nestling was still alive. With every flight the information proved positive. Two weeks ago we started picking up signals for the young bird from Pinnacles. It looks like he has finally started flying high enough that we can detect him from the park. We all hope that this fledgling makes it through the winter and we look forward to the day that he shows up at Pinnacles! As the adults who bred last year continue to care for their young, this year's breeding adults are starting to display to each other. Breeding displays typically begin in January and last into March or April. Soon we should see pairs returning to their territories or setting up new nest territories. From February to April, we will likely see eggs laid. This year we hope to see at least two nests involving Pinnacles-released condors. We'll keep everyone updated as the season progresses.

December 16, 2010

Our flight pen sits empty once again! Condor 525 was the last of the 2010 cohort to be released, just prior to Thanksgiving. All of the newly released condors have been seen regularly perching and flying within the park. We expect that as they become stronger and more capable of sustained flights, we will see them begin to explore further stretches of San Benito and Monterey Counties.

October 16, 2010

It has been many moons since we've sent out an update on the condors, so it's about time. In the past few months, we have welcomed four new condors to Pinnacles, performed health checks on nearly all of the free-flying birds, hosted an Argentine deputy superintendent from our sister-park, held a public event in celebration of releasing new condors, confirmed another nest outside of the park, and maintained daily tracking operations. All of that might explain why it has been five months since the last update!

This year we have a cohort of four condors to be released for the first time into the wild. They all hatched in 2009 with two of them coming from the Oregon Zoo and two from World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. The oldest, 525, is a male, while the other three. 534, 543 and 547, are females. They came to the park in early June and have since lived in our captive flight pen. Just a few days ago we released the first two condors of this cohort: 534 and 543. Since being released they have mainly spent their time at the flight pen, but have started taking flights up to ten minutes in length. We won't release the last two condors until these first two make it to the feeding site and roost away from the pen. Hopefully that will be in a week or two.

Every fall we collaborate with Ventana Wildlife Society in Big Sur to try to trap every condor in central California in order to perform health checks and swap out old transmitters. As of right now, we have processed 44 out of 52 condors. We are working closely with a variety of researchers to gain an understanding of condor health through a variety of blood tests. The one test we perform on every condor is to check their blood for lead. So far this season, nearly a third have required treatment for lead toxicosis.

This fall we hosted Germán Jaacks, the deputy superintendent of our sister-park in Argentina, Parques Nacionales Quebrada del Condorito. During his two-week stay, he spoke with Rotary Club chapters, students at the dual-language academy in Hollister, took a whirlwind tour of Yosemite National Park and San Francisco, and spent fair bit of time checking out the inner workings of the various divisions within Pinnacles. Overall it sounds like he had a wonderful experience here and it was great to continue the face-to-face connection with our sister-park.

During Germán's second day in the United States, he participated in the Pinnacles Condor Comeback 2010. We had hoped to release one of the juveniles from this year's cohort, but none cooperated in the end. This year we tried something new by gathering everyone outside the Visitor Center to watch two large televisions with a live video feed from the flight pen. Additionally, we invited several people to speak about our partnerships and the condor program in general. Overall, it seemed that that the visitors who made the journey to the park, despite the predicted 104ºF temperature, enjoyed themselves and appreciated the chance to ask in-depth questions.

Now for an update on nesting condors this year. Everyone remembers the saga of the Resurrection Wall nest, but perhaps not everyone has heard how the young condor fared. The nestling that we evacuated was taken to the LA Zoo for treatment. That bird went through treatment without any trouble and continues to be held at the zoo. Perhaps this next spring or summer he will come back here to be released in the fall. Both of the parents were also treated last spring for lead poisoning and were re-released after their treatments. Hopefully they will choose to nest again this coming year.Early this summer, we discovered another nesting pair of condors outside of Pinnacles. The female, 310, is a Pinnacles released condor and her mate, 219, was released at Big Sur. They chose to nest in an extremely remote location in the Ventana mountain range. Due to the difficulty in accessing the nest, we have done very little direct monitoring of this nest. We performed two nest entries, once when the condor was about 30 days old and once when he was closer to 120 days old. Both entries went well and on the latter entry we attached a radio transmitter. We hope to start picking up that transmitter from high points in the park when he begins to take flights.May 26, 2010 Condor keepers at the Los Angeles Zoo report that the nestling evacuated from the Pinnacles nest earlier this month appears to be in better health - it has been eating well and gaining weight. It is difficult to predict the outcome of high lead exposures however, and staff will contine to closely monitor the bird's health, behavior, and development.

May 12, 2010

The condor nestling was evacuated from the park today after routine health checks revealed that the bird had very high levels of lead in its bloodstream. The young bird was transfered to Los Angeles Zoo where it will be cared for similarly to other condors reared in captivity.

March 19, 2010

Condor 514, the fledgling from last year's nest at the RS Bar Guest Ranch, made it to the park for the first time today. Departure from its natal area is an excellent sign that the bird in maturing and becoming an integral part of the region's condor flock.

March 8, 2010

Condors 317 and 318 have paired up this year and chose a nest site within the Monument. This is only the second nest in the program's six year history and is the first verified nest in the Monument in over 100 years. Condors persisted in the area in sufficient numbers to suggest nesting into the 1930's, but there are no good records indicating exactly where the nests of the early 20th century were. Field biologists have been tracking the new pair for many weeks, and verified that an egg had been laid in mid-February, but we waited until now to announce the finding to ensure the new pair were exhibiting normal incubating patterns. So far both adult birds have taken to the new life stage as one would expect from an adult condor. Condor eggs take around 57 days to hatch, so if all goes well, the park may have a nestling condor in early April. More information can be found under the News section to the left, where the park's press release on the nest has been posted.

Did You Know?

Starry skies. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The night sky is vital to many plants and animals that call Pinnacles home and it holds many meanings for many cultures. An unpolluted night sky is especially valuable to humans wishing to experience natural darkness, shooting stars, or the Milky Way.