• High Peaks and Big Berry Manzanita. NPS Photo|Sierra Willoughby

    Pinnacles

    National Park California

Updates on the Pinnacles Condors

April 3, 2014

This is a time of hope and possibility for the condors as they seek out mates and find places to nest. So far this year, there are at least six nests in central California! A few interesting developments this year:

  • This is the first year that two Pinnacles condors have decided to nest together on the coast. They found an old redwood tree cavity to lay their eff in and it should be hatching this week!
  • The pair in the park still hasn't started nesting for some reason. We're not sure why they are waiting so lat in the season, but there's still hope that they will get down to it. In the meantime, we have seen them almost every day in the High Peaks and they have made lots of visitors very happy!
Every year we try to trap all of the condors to replace transmitters and perform health checks. We have quite a few condors in the wild without any functioning transmitters and that makes our job of keeping track of them very difficult. As a result, we opened our traps this week and hope to catch them as quickly as possible.

We held a volunteer orientation training last month and ended up with a record 17 participants! Everybody seems very enthusiastic and committed to working with our program! We had a great day of introductions, presentations, and hiking. We look forward to working with these folks who are willing to make the drive here and donate their time to help the condors.

As always, if you have any condor sightings, please let us know.

April 20, 2013

It's time for another update from the Condor Crew. Unfortunately, the latest news with the condors isn't great.

In the first two weeks of April, we discovered that the nests just outside Pinnacles and the one within the park failed. We aren't sure what happened with either one. For the nest in the park, we know the egg hatched, but it looks like something happened to the nestling within the first few days after hatch. We wish that we knew more about what happened to the chick, but when we went into the nest to try and figure it out, all we found were eggshells.

For the nest outside the park, we only get visual observations when we plan on performing a nest entry. In this case, we were hoping to check the fertility of the egg. Unfortunately, when we got in view of the nest, we discovered that both parents were away, a clear sign that something wasn't right. Often times when the first egg of the breeding season fails, the parents will try to nest again, but in this case, that's not possible because we found the breeding female dead a week later. This was Condor 312. We retrieved her body and in the coming weeks a necropsy (kind of like an autopsy) will be performed which will hopefully tell us how she died.

Not everything is doom and gloom around here though! There are now four condor nests in the coastal mountains and so far they are all progressing as we like to see. Additionally, we have a new cadre of condor volunteers getting their feet wet with learning how we track these big birds and we're really happy to have them working with us.

We will be starting with the spring trapping season in May which always means more running around for us, what with trying to trap the birds, work them up every week and then deal with whatever we find during handling. Wish us luck with this trapping season!

March 20, 2013

Greetings,

It’s now been nearly six months since the last written update for the Pinnacles Condor Program, so there’s a lot to report. In the future, we’ll try to get these out more often, so that they can be shorter!

Over the last six months, we've released three new condors into the wild, watched a breeding male die of lead poisoning, observed a record number of pairs of condors gearing up to breed this year, and welcomed a new Program Manager. There’s never a dull moment when working with so many big birds!

Beginning in January, we released three juvenile condors that hatched in captivity in 2011 into the wild for the first time. These three youngsters, numbered 602, 606 and 626, have been exploring the area they now call home. They have really been giving our visitors a treat by spending lots of time in the High Peaks.

This winter, condor 318, a condor originally released in Big Sur by the Ventana Wildlife Society, who became famous around here for pairing with female 317 and starting the first nest in Pinnacles in over 100 years was found by park biologists on the ground extremely ill. We transported him to the LA Zoo for lead poisoning treatment, but he did not survive. We've observed his mate spending more time on the coast than she used to and we wonder when she will find a new partner.

Speaking of condor deaths, in our last update, we mentioned finding condor 588 dead. Unfortunately, a cause of death could never be determined for that bird.

Now to switch to more positive news:

Breeding season starts for condors in December, when pairs form or come back together. From February to April, each pair locates a nest cavity and lays an egg. This year, Pinnacles-released condors are involved in at least three nests, one of which is inside the park. In addition to these three nests, another condor nest has been confirmed on the coast and another four nests could still be on the way.

The pair nesting in the park is pretty special, because the female is the first condor that came out of a nest in central California and the male is the first condor raised by the Oregon Zoo. The female, condor 444, fledged from a redwood tree cavity in Big Sur and has been hanging out in the Pinnacles area for the last 2-3 years. She will be 6 years old in May, which means she is getting started with nesting in her first year of sexual maturity and will be starting the second generation of condors in our area! If all goes well, we expect their egg to hatch in early April.

Finally, we’d like to welcome our new Program Manager, Rachel Wolstenholme, to Pinnacles. She started just a few days ago and dove right in with an action-packed week. We look forward to working with her over the coming months and years.

We wish everyone a great spring!

-The Condor Crew

October 17, 2012

Late spring and early summer has been a hectic time for the Condor Crew at Pinnacles. In early June our program manager for the past four years found a new job within the National Park Service. We wish him the best as we try to find someone new to take on the helm of the program at the park. At the same time, we began the demolition of our original captive flight pen. Over the course of a few months we rebuilt the facility with many improvements for the birds as well as the staff that uses it during trapping and handling of condors. Many thanks go to the Pinnacles Maintenance staff who worked long days in the searing heat of the Pinnacles' summer to finish the building in time for us to begin our fall trapping cycle.

In bird news, we have a sad update to give. At the end of July, we discovered that juvenile male 588 had died. Necropsy results are still pending for this bird. It was an especially sad death since 588 had been released during our public Condor Comeback event in September of 2011. Many folks had followed the status of his explorations and development upon being released into the wild. We hope that lab results will provide answers into what happened to this young bird.

In September, we had another exploratory flight by at least two Pinnacles' birds. Adult male 340 and juvenile female 534 made a flight south through San Luis Obispo county. They flew near the High Mountain Lookout that has volunteers tracking our birds on a regular basis prior to returning north. 340 and 534 then surprised some folks on their return trip out at Camp Roberts by flying low overhead before ending up back along the Big Sur Coast. It is always interesting to see where the birds end up exploring and hopefully this adventure will be stored in their memories to help future condors in our flock expand their range south.

We are now in the middle of our regular autumn trapping cycle. We will hopefully complete health checks and lead testing on our flock prior to the winter season when all of us on the crew will be patiently waiting for the next breeding season to gear up once again. Thanks for the support.

-Pinnacles Condor Crew

May 8, 2012

As Pinnacles is in the middle of its busy season, so is the Condor Program. Condors are nesting, the spring trapping season began recently and we've hosted several special guests. The breeding year for Pinnacles condors has been rocky this season. Condors 317 and 318 attempted to nest early in the year in a new nest cave, but failed during the egg stage, possibly due to predation from ravens. They attempted to nest again at a different nest cave, but again failed during the egg stage. We do not know what caused the second failure. They do not appear to be trying a third time. One other Pinnacles condor is nesting this year, Condor 310, and she appears to be using a nest she used two years ago in an extremely remote area outside of the park. We continue to remotely monitor their nest using the GPS transceivers that she and her mate wear. The beginning of trapping season started off fast. We trapped eleven condors in the first two days! All of those birds were processed and three required treatment for elevated blood lead levels. Our new Condor Care Unit ( CCU ) got its first use with those birds. They settled right in! It is wonderful to have an accessible, safe place to hold and treat the birds when they need it.

The Condor Program hosted a few special guests recently. For the third consecutive year, one of the NPS veterinarians, John Bryan, joined us for over a week. Every year we learn new techniques and methods for handling condors. This year was no different! We also hosted a woman diagnosed with terminal cancer who wished to see a condor in the wild. She and her family and friends spent a day with one of the Condor Crew and fulfilled her wish!

One last note from the Condor Crew is the flock lost a 4 year-old male condor this Spring. He was found outside of the park partially paralyzed, emaciated, and suffering from severe lead poisoning. We were able to capture him and take him to the LA Zoo for treatment, but he was too ill to recover.

 

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