Updates on Condors - 2004 and 2005
These updates are from 2004 and 2005, the first two years after Pinnacles National Monument became a release site for the Condor Recovery Program. For current information, visit our update page.
October 14, 2005
Condor 340 is making excellent progress with his flight skills. He accompanied an older condor to Coalinga, about 60 miles southeast of Pinnacles. 340 is one of the birds who wears a GPS transceiver, and biologists are able to download detailed information about his flight range.
September 30, 2005
All of the newly released birds are feeding very well, making good choices for roost and developing their flight skills quickly. In fact, most of the new birds have been making flights of up to twenty minutes.
345 and 351 were released on Monday, September 26. 351 roosted at the facility that night. 345 flew around quite a bit and roosted at the facility with 351 and 306.
335 and 336 left the flight pen on Friday, September 23. After 335 was released, he spent one night roosting on the ground but has otherwise done well and 336 has been a star from the start. She roosted in the roost pine on her first night out of the flight pen!
More chicks will be coming to Pinnacles in early 2006. If you're interested in attending one of our public release events, we'll be posting details about our next event as soon as we can.
September 23, 2005
The other three condors of the third group that were released at the public event are improving their flight skills. Last night, they roosted with the other six free-flying birds in a pine tree. All of the free-flying condors have been feeding together. This indicates that the newly released birds have shown good competitive abilities while feeding, which is a positive step towards integration into the group.
September 19, 2005
On Saturday night, 330 and 340 did not leave the immediate area of the facility, and roosted on a snag just outside the double-door trap. Condor 332 explored a bit more than the others, and was not able to make it back to the ridgetop for the night. He tried to get into a tree down the hill from the flight pen, but he couldn't quite get there. He settled for a safe spot in a nearby snag.
On Sunday night, 330 took a short flight in the late afternoon and landed downhill from the flight pen. No trees were nearby, and 330 ended up roosting on the ground. Biologists spent the night nearby to flush away coyotes and other predators.
During the next couple of weeks, the newly released birds will develop the muscle structure and flight skills that they need to get into trees and other safe roosting spots at night. Once they are able to do this, biologists will be able to take a break from monitoring them so closely.
September 17, 2005
The birds left the double-door trap shortly after 10:00, and spent a few minutes on the ground before making short flights around the ridgetop near the flight pen that had been their home for the last few months. They were joined by 313, one of the condors who was released last year, soon after they left the flight pen.
During the next few weeks, the condors will be monitored closely to ensure that they stay out of the reach of predators such as coyotes and mountain lions. The most critical time will be when they choose their roosting spots in the evening. Biologists will be watching to make sure that the condors roost in trees. During the first release at Pinnacles in 2003, one of the birds had to be recaptured because it was roosting on the ground.
Four more California condors will be released over the next two weeks, joining six others that have been flying free since October 2004. Details about their progress as they begin their lives in the wild will be posted regularly; check back soon!
May 11, 2005
April 22, 2005
The second group of condors hasn’t been seen in the High Peaks as much as the first group, but many people have had luck seeing them from the Pinnacles Campground, which is just outside the east boundary of the monument. The best time to catch a glimpse of the birds is usually from 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening while they search for a good roosting location. Please keep in mind that the campground is only open to registered campers. If you’re not planning on camping, the nearby bench Trail would be a good alternative.
First group – released 12/03 and 01/04
Condors 266, 270, and 287 were transferred to Arizona. Read updates about them in the Peregrine Fund's Notes from the Field (link).
Only one condor from the first group to be released at Pinnacles remains in the park. Condor 265 has been living in the flight pen since he was retrapped in the spring of 2004 because of his close calls with hikers and climbers. 265 will be released this summer or fall.
Third group – to be released in summer or fall 2005
The third Pinnacles condor release was tentatively scheduled for May, but has now been postponed until summer or fall. Details about the event will be posted as soon as they are finalized.
March 25, 2005
Now that they’re exploring more of the park and feeding at the new site, 286 will be recaptured and transferred to Big Sur this week. He will join condor 278, another former Pinnacles bird, and they will be released in that area soon.
Another juvenile condor has arrived at Pinnacles and is adjusting well to life in the flight pen. Condor 340, a male from the Oregon Zoo, has joined four juveniles from the Hopper Mountain facility. Two more juvenile condors will be coming from the Los Angeles Zoo this spring. These six birds will be the third group of condors to be released at Pinnacles, most likely sometime in May.
The condor field crew recently put in some long hours repairing an opening in the flight pen. The mesh that makes up most of the pen is held up by a cable system, and the cable had pulled away from the frame that holds it in place. This caused a section of the mesh to sag down into the pen. The damage was repaired that evening, and the field crew is continuing to make modifications to the mesh to avoid another problem. The field staff generally works from 10 – 14 hours each day; the after-hours repairs to the flight pen have made their days even longer.
February 21, 2005
Last summer, three of the original birds that were the first to be released here were seen perching on power poles near the monument. While the birds lived in the flight pen at Pinnacles, a mock power pole within the pen trained them to avoid power poles once they were released into the wild. This worked by delivering a mild shock to any bird that landed on it.
Biologists were surprised to find three birds landing on poles in August 2004, and quickly retrapped all of the older birds to prevent them from teaching the behavior to the younger birds that would be released in October. The mock pole in the pen was modified to more closely match the poles in the area surrounding Pinnacles.
Still, the chance that the condors would continue to land on the poles if they were re-released was still a major concern, and biologists decided to transfer five birds of the original group of six to release areas in Big Sur and Arizona. These sites have well established flocks, in which adult condors guide the behavior of the younger birds. Biologists believe that transferring condors from Pinnacles first cohort to these other release sites will break their behavioral pattern of perching on power poles.
Condor 278 has been transferred to the Big Sur area, and 286 will follow soon. 286 is currently being used as a free flying mentor for the younger condors released at Pinnacles in October 2004. Condors 287, 270, and 266 were transferred to Arizona in mid-February for release at the Vermillion Cliffs.
The only bird from the first group who will remain at Pinnacles is condor 265. He was originally released for only two months, after which time he was recaptured for approaching climbers in the High Peaks. Condor 265 did not land on power poles, and we plan to re-release him in late spring or early summer. He will hopefully serve as a free-flying mentor for the newly-released younger birds.
The younger condors are doing well and continue to hone their flying skills while exploring the monument and surrounding areas. They have generally stayed close to the release site, possibly to remain close to the older birds in the flight pen. With the re-release of condor 286 and the transfer of most of the older condors to other release areas, the younger birds have begun to expand their range.
When condor 286 was re-released, two of the younger free-flying birds traveled with him to the High Peaks and roosted there with him. All of the younger birds have traveled to the High Peaks at least once. Biologists are also hoping 286 will lead the second cohort condors from the temporary feeding site to use a semi-permanent feeding site.
In early February, four juvenile condors arrived at Pinnacles’ flight pen from the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in southern California. They are adjusting well to life in the flight pen. They were reared at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and the group is made up of three males and one female. Three more young birds should arrive at Pinnacles this spring, one from the Oregon Zoo and two from the Los Angeles Zoo. We plan to release the third cohort of seven condors sometime in 2005.
December 8, 2004
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
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
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
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
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
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
Improvements to the Release Facility
August 18, 2004
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
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
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
March 12, 2004
February 19, 2001
February 11, 2004
February 5, 2004
January 30, 2004
January 28, 2004
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
January 23, 2004
January 12, 2004
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
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.
Did You Know?
Pinnacles National Park is home to 14 of the 24 bat species in California. Pinnacles provides excellent habitat for many other species as well.