Updates for 2006-2007
Condor 303 died at the Los Angeles Zoo today. Although this bird nested in
Condor 303 was captured today after field biologists noted the bird was lethargic and was not using its legs properly. These symptoms indicate neurological problems typical of lead poisoning and the condor also had elevated levels of lead in its blood.
The last couple of weeks proved to be rather exciting as we finally trapped a condor we'd been trying to get for a few months, entered the condor nest near Pinnacles, participated in the Pinnacles Partnership picnic, and brought our newest cohort of juveniles to the flight pen.
For some time now, we have been trying to capture condor 313, since he is the male of the pair nesting near Pinnacles. We had observed him feeding on carcasses outside of the Monument on at least a couple of occasions and suspected he had fed on many more based on his
Speaking of the nestling, we performed a 60-day nest check on June 24. The nestling was actually 68 days old by then and looked in good health. He weighed in over 11 pounds, a very healthy weight! His blood lead level came back relatively low at 18 ug/dL, but did indicate some exposure. However, we decided not to chelate the nestling. Overall, he is pretty feisty and seems to be maturing at a normal rate.
We witnessed more of the nestling's behavior during the Pinnacles Partnership barbecue. It sounds like over 65 people were able to get out to see the condor nest and we heard many great reviews of the whole event. Four members of the condor crew staffed the nest viewing area for the event and really enjoyed speaking with so many enthusiastic people!
The most recent big news for the Condor Crew is the 2009 cohort of juveniles has arrived! Biologists picked them up in
Thank you all for your support,
The Condor Crew
This just in! 303 and 313's nestling is a male! During the first nest entry when the nestling was 30 days old, we took a blood sample to determine its sex and we just got the result today.Speaking of the nest, based on
Thanks to everyone who has assisted our crew in any way recently! Happy Summer!-- The Condor Crew
In the last couple of months, we released the final condors of the 2008 cohort, continued our intensive daily tracking efforts of the new juveniles, and started documenting breeding behavior in the oldest birds of the Pinnacles flock.
On January 13, Condor #421, the last juvenile of the 2008 cohort, found himself outside of the flight pen. He started with a couple of shaky flights followed by crash-landings, but he did discover the rest of the flock on his first day. Unfortunately, since then he's proven to be a slow learner. It took over 2 weeks before he landed at the feeding site. We try to make sure newly released condors feed within 5 days of being released, so his extended time not feeding caused us to be very concerned. So concerned, in fact, we tried to catch him using both a hand net and net gun. We were unsuccessful, but on the third day of trying to catch him, he finally made it to the feeding site and fed! The other peculiar behavior with this particular condor is he refuses to roost off the ground. All of the other condors roost on branches in trees, but for some reason 421 chooses not to follow suit. Unfortunately, that puts him in significantly more danger. Roosting on the ground through the night means he's much more easily approached by predators. At this point, we continue to keep an especially keen eye on Condor 421 and we hope that he starts roosting off the ground soon. If not we may bring him back into captivity for a few months and try to re-release him.
The same day Condor 421 was released, we also let go an adult female condor #112 who was transferred to Pinnacles from the US Fish and Wildlife Service release site in southern
Right now we are in the midst of condor breeding season. This is the first year that any of the Pinnacles condors have been old enough to breed and it looks like at least two of them are thinking about it. Interestingly, both have paired up with condors released by Ventana Wildlife Society in Big
That about sums up the recent activities of the Pinnacles condors and the tracking crew for the last couple of months. If you have any condor sightings or questions, please contact the Condor Recovery Crew at (831) 389-4486 ext. 276
We have successfully released 6 of the 7 new juveniles over the past 2 months. The 1st two, #448 and 451, gave us a bit of trouble by flying over to a slide canyon west of the facility that lacked good perching trees and staying there for 3-4 days. We still don't know why they went there, but eventually they caught a decent wind and made it over to the feeding site and into roosting trees near there. After those first two got their wings about them, we released another one. That condor, #431, appears to be a straight-A student, since on that first day made it from the facility to the feeding site and up into a roost tree! Soon after that, we released condors 418 and 438. Those two also did a wonderful job of following the other condors to the feeding site and into roost trees within the first couple of days of release. Most recently, Condor #422 was released last Sunday! She's giving us a bit of a run, since on her first day out, she flew up and down Facility Ridge and is now spending time just outside the park. Hopefully she'll return to the park soon and we also hope to get the last juvenile out this week or next.
In the midst of releasing these juveniles, we've kept an eye on the rest of the free-flying condors, too. This is the time of year when the thermals are more challenging and with fewer hours of daylight, the condors tend to roam less. We still see them easily hop the
One fairly interesting side note that has been developing over the last couple of months is we recently received an adult female condor from the southern
December and January mark the time of year when adult condors begin thinking about nesting. This is the first year that any of the birds in the Pinnacles flock are now 6 years of age, making them old enough to consider breeding. So far this year, we've observed some possible nest searching activities both within and near the park. Interestingly, it appears 2 males, #286 and 313 (a Pinnacles condor), are trying to court one female, #303 (a
On the topic of nesting, last year, 3 pairs of condors on the
On the topic of condor deaths, I'm sure many of you recall the death of Pinnacles condor #336 in September 2008. She was caught on private property on the
So that, in a nutshell, is all things condor for the last few months. This encapsulates pretty much everything in the life of a condor: nesting, new hatches and releases, exploring new territory, feeding, and death.
It's time for a condor update! There certainly is a lot to report, such as the ramifications of the
During the fire, many condors originally released at both
The good news through all of the fire trials is that at least 2 of the nestlings in wild nests have survived! There is a 3rd unconfirmed nestling that may also have survived. Because that site has virtually no access at this point, we can only wait and see if that one pops out of its tree cavity nest this fall. So, if it turns out this year that we lost two free-flying condors but gain up to three wild-fledged ones, then perhaps the flock will continue to grow.
From May through July, we trapped the entire Pinnacles flock and a few
July 1st marked the start of a new law relating to the use of non-lead ammunition in counties within the condor range. Jake Theyerl of the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS) has been working tirelessly to put out the word on the new law through hosting shooting events where hunters can try free non-lead ammunition and by distributing brochures about the new regulations.
I mentioned earlier that we are now holding juveniles in our flight pen for release this fall. It looks like we have a cohort of 7 individuals to be released. Three of those are parent-reared condors from the Peregrine Fund facility in
February 20, 2008
Early in February, we picked up 7 condors from the Peregrine Fund's headquarters in
Within four days of the new juveniles being placed in the rearing pen, three of our most recent releases, 400, 401 and 405, made the trek across the
The remainder of the Pinnacles flock continues to fly back and forth from here to Big
In other news, Ventana Wildlife Society condor crew employees are monitoring their flock for potential breeders and nests this season and it's looking like it could be an exciting year! Even some of the older Pinnacles condors are starting to display and be displayed to by other
November 16, 2007
We are gearing up to do a few major repairs to our captive pen before we get new juveniles going in there early in 2008. Our plan includes replacing the mesh and one of the corner wooden poles as well as adding a center pole to decrease mesh sag. Last year we had a problem with a couple of condors snagging their wing tags on the upper mesh, so hopefully by making these repairs we won’t see that happening again. If all goes well, we should have all the modifications accomplished by early January, before the new arrivals get here.
We now have a new and exciting way of observing the condors feeding. A remote digital video recorder is now fully operational at the primary feeding site. Every few days when we place new carcasses, we bring back a small hard drive with the previous two to three days’ worth of video footage. It’s exciting to see such up close views of how the condors interact at carcasses and all the gory details of how they feed. Additionally, we’ve been getting lots of footage of golden eagles (and even a bald eagle) tearing at the carcasses. We all like seeing how much all the birds really love the deer that came from the Point Reyes National Seashore exotic deer control project. The condors clearly prefer feeding on deer carcasses over calves. It’s great to have this cooperation between park units.
August 29, 2007
Since they gained their freedom, they've been learning how to use their wings effectively and they both have been observed feeding at one of the park feeding sites! It's only a matter of time before they start joining the older condors on longer flights.
July 20, 2007
Over the next couple of weeks, we observed most of the Pinnacles flock and some of the Big Sur flock feeding to the south of the monument on private land. We confirmed that at least one of those carcasses had been shot with lead ammunition. As a result, we stepped up our efforts to capture those birds and urged the Ventana Wildlife Society crew to also start trapping. Fortunately, we managed to trap eight condors in the next days. Additionally, the Ventana crew trapped another eight condors at their facility in Big Sur.
In early July, we performed lead tests on the eight condors trapped at Pinnacles. Two of those, 306 and 318, had blood lead levels high enough to require treatment. It turned out that 306 had a lead score higher than any previous Pinnacles or Big Sur condor. Both birds were taken to the LA Zoo for a week of treatment and observation.
About two weeks later, we participated in the lead testing of the condors captured at the Big Sur facility. Two of the Pinnacles condors had elevated levels that warranted them staying in captivity under observation and one of the Big Sur condors, Condor 242, required treatment. Shockingly, Condor 242 had a blood lead level nearly four times higher than that of Condor 306. Not surprisingly, Condor 242 is currently undergoing treatment also at the LA Zoo.
Earlier this week, the first two condors treated for lead toxicity, 306 and 318, plus Condor 332 returned from the zoo. Condor 332 you may remember had a severely infected wing injury about three months ago. That wing has healed impressively and if we observe 332 flying normally in the flight pen he could be released in the coming month.
Unfortunately, the lead scare continues. It seems like every week we observe more condors feeding outside of the park. They are behaving as scavengers should, but we just wish that the food on the landscape was safe for them to eat.
In other news regarding the condor program, there is no further information as of yet regarding the cause of death for either Condor 307 or 417. We hope to get the final reports soon.
You may be wondering about our newly released condors. Condors 400 and 401 are often seen together both in and out of Pinnacles. They occasionally join up with some of the older condors at feeding sites, but are more often separate. This is normal behavior for young condors; it takes some time before they are fully integrated in the flock.
Condors 405 and 411 are still being held in the flight pen. We hope to release these two at the same time we release Condors 306, 318 and 332. Cross your fingers that we can get them all out within a month!
One other side note that could be of interest is that both of the chicks being reared in the wild by Big Sur condors seem to be maturing well. Our crew has been observing one chick occasionally over the last couple of months and it just had its 100 day birthday yesterday!
June 27, 2007
About 2 ½ weeks ago, a park employee passed along a message from neighbors that they had seen condors feeding south of Bitterwater. When we went to check it out, four condors were seen standing near a pig carcass. Over the next couple of days, we observed a total of five condors in the area and when we talked to the landowner we found that the pig was likely shot with lead ammunition. From that information, we decided to begin a trapping effort targeting those particular condors. Then, just this week, several condors were seen feeding on yet another pig. We’ve now decided it’s time to do a full flock trap-up in order to do blood lead tests.
Summer is a busy time for the project because the condors tend to range further afield. Over the last few weeks we’ve tracked them 20-30 miles from the park, as well as at Big Sur. Sometimes they just take off for an afternoon while other times they head somewhere and stay a few days. We’re doing our best to keep track of them each day, but they do tend to split up and of course they don’t always stick to places that can be seen from roads.
Keep an eye to the sky when you’re out and about (inside or outside the park), because we’ve had about 18 condors in the park throughout the week, including few new visitors from Big Sur, as well as several of the Pinnacles flock and some Big Sur regulars.
May 19, 2007
She traveled farther than any of the other Pinnacles birds, routinely making the trip to Big Sur to interact with the Ventana Wilderness flock. She often flew alone. She survived high blood lead levels last year after requring emergency treatment on two separate occasions.
A condor from the Big Sur release site also died last Wednesday, making it a very tough week for the Condor Recovery Program in central California. Condor 301 appears to have died after hitting a set of power lines.
May 14, 2007
Biologists had been monitoring 417 closely because she had flown outside the park, away from the rest of the flock. She hadn't shown any signs of illness, though, and biologists were stunned to find her lying on her back in a field, dead, on Saturday.
Condor 417 will undergo a necropsy to try to determine the cause of death. Results from this examination could take up to three weeks.
May 7, 2007
All three of the newly released condors are are roosting consistently in trees and have found the hilltop feeding site, which is encouraging news for the biologists who are monitoring them.
May 2, 2007
Condor 400 got an early start away from the flight pen on her second day out. She flew about an eighth of a mile to the feeding site and fed with the other birds. For the next five days, though, she remained close to the flight pen, roosting on it each night. Last night, she finally roosted in a tree away from the pen.
Condor 401 took a little longer to move away from the flight pen, but he has been roosting away from it consistently since then.
Now that both birds are showing that they can feed and roost safely, biologists plan to release the remaining juvenile condors that remain in the flight pen.
April 24, 2007
Condor 332 was transported to the LA Zoo last week because of an injury to his wing. He underwent a two hour operation to clean up a five inch wound on the leading edge of his left wing. The tendons and bones associated with that wing were not seriously damaged and the prognosis for his recovery is good.
He'll probably be at the zoo for a few weeks before getting another car ride back to PINN for re-releasing. The likely scenario that led to his injury was that he struck something while flying (e.g. a powerline or tree branch) and there was no evidence of a gunshot wound.
April 21, 2007
Unfortunately, the juveniles that were candidates for release didn't cooperate, and no birds ended up leaving the flight pen.
Several of the free-flying Pinnacles condors were flying near the viewing area, though, which gave everyone a chance to see these endangered birds.
During a release, juvenile condors leave the flight pen by entering a double door trap. Once they decide to enter the trap, the inside door is closed and the door to the outside is opened. This minimizes human interaction with the birds, but makes the release events unpredictable.
Biologists had placed carcasses in the double door trap early on the morning of the release to entice the birds to enter it. Although many of the birds entered the trap in the early morning, none ventured back in later on when the release event was underway.
Over the next week or two, biologists will release the five juvenile condors that are living in the flight pen. The viewing area is now closed to the public.
We'd like to thank everyone who joined us for the release event. We appreciate your continuing support of the Pinnacles condors and the Condor Recovery Program.
March 15, 2007
A Pinnacles biologist observed condor 330 limping last week. The bird’s right foot was swollen, but without closer inspection, the biologist could not determine the nature and severity of the injury. The bird was captured and biologists inspected the foot. 330’s injury wasn’t serious but he was held for observation. Over the past week, he has shown improvements and was released yesterday.
While at the pen to check on 330, biologists reattached the proper tracking devices to 307 and 265 and captured 155 for transfer back to Hopper National Wildlife Refuge. 265 and 307 were released and are free-flying once again.
Pizmo has established her dominance in the flight pen. The younger birds have been following her lead, and with the behaviors that they learn, should be ready for release next month.
Condors 265 and 307 enjoyed brief stints in the wild for the first half of February before being recaptured for some unexpected transmitter maintenance. Soon after 307’s release, the hardware holding on her GPS tag failed, and the tag fell off. Being the most peregrine of the Pinnacles condors, the GPS information is critical for tracking her distant and solitary movements. Rather than risk losing contact with 307, biologists decided to trap her and reattach the tag. 265 will also be receiving a GPS tag and both birds should be back in the wild within the next week.
Two days ago, 330 traveled to Big Sur with some other Pinnacles condors. With that trip, the only remaining Pinnacles bird who has not made the trek to the coast is 265.
Pizmo, a wild-born 22 year old female condor, has arrived from the Oregon Zoo to mentor our juveniles in the flight pen. Condors are extremely social animals, and younger birds rely on older birds for behavioral cues. Pizmo will quickly become the dominant bird in the flight pen, and until their release, the juveniles will follow her lead while feeding, preening, and bathing. The chicks will also copy her behaviors if predators approach the pen, hopefully learning what threats look like and how to react to them.
January 22, 2007
On the 10th of January, we received five condor chicks from the breeding facility in Idaho. The transfer went smoothly but there have since been a couple of bumps in the road.
Three days after their release, condor 402 caught his/her (the sexes of our new juveniles has not been determined yet) temporary wing-tag on the pen's overhead mesh. These temporary tags are placed on the chicks in the zoo and are used to secure the vinyl number tags to the birds before they receive transmitters. To the horror of our staff, 402 hung and struggled by this tag for ~45 minutes before an employee was able to cut him/her free. The next morning, we took the bird to the nearby Avian and Exotic Clinic where he/she received a few dozen sutures and antibiotics. That night, we transferred 402 to the LA Zoo so he/she could recover in isolation and be under the care of their staff for a few weeks. Fortunately, the wound appears to be healing properly and the bird will likely be releasable, possibly even this year, barring any further trauma to the wing.
While dropping off 417 at the LA Zoo, condors 155 and 417 were picked up from Southern California release sites to be held in our pen for a few months. Prior to placing these birds in our pen (now totaling 9 condors) we tightened the cables supporting the pen's nylon mesh netting to reduce any sagging and to hopefully avoid a reoccurrence of 402's incident...
Yesterday morning, condor 400 caught his/her temporary wing-tag on the overhead portion of our flight pen's mesh netting. After hanging for ~5 seconds, the bird's tag popped off. This morning, we confirmed that 400 did not receive any significant injuries from this incident though he/she did have a small cut near the tag piercing.
These are the first known instances of tags getting snagged in our pen.
Today, we removed the rest of the temporary tags from the remaining new birds and replaced them with old transmitters. We are hoping these transmitters, which are designed differently, will be less likely to snag on the mesh and that this problem is behind us.
For some good news, condors 265 and 307 will be released into the wild as soon as possible. 307's blood lead concentrations have decreased to acceptable levels and she is ready for release.
January 10, 2007
In other exciting news, condor 265 will return after spending 18 months at the LA Zoo. You may remember that 265 was one of the original release birds here at Pinnacles and has been held in captivity because of his several attempts to approach people. The biologists at the zoo assure us he is very wild and ready to be re-released.
This spring we will also be temporarily holding condors 155 and 417 from southern California. 155 was apparently shot in the face in the fall of 2005 and it is still not clear whether she will ever be able to return to the wild. 417 is a juvenile that hatched last season and is waiting to be released with the other juveniles.
All of these birds will join condors 313 and 307 in our captive facility. 313, like 265, is being held for inappropriate behavior and 307 is still recovering from lead poisoning.
So, to summarize, we will have 11 condors in our captive pen, making it a busy place for the next couple of months. We look forward to releasing a new cohort of juveniles and a couple of our older birds over the next months.
December 18, 2006
Twelve of our thirteen condors "passed" their blood tests with values ranging from 2.5-19.0 ug/dL. Blood-lead scores are termed/considered as follows:
Unfortunately, condor #307 had an alarming blood-lead level of 130 ug/dL (the highest yet recorded in Big Sur or Pinnacles history). Immediately following the trap-up, 307 was x-rayed to determine if surgical removal of a lead fragment would be necessary. Thankfully, the attached image demonstrated no retained lead fragments thus ruling out the need for surgery. Chelation therapy, on the other hand, was essential. After several late-night and early-morning injections of Calcium EDTA 307's blood-lead level went down to 16.6 ug/dL. If all continues to go well, she could be free-flying in another week.
In other news... our flock will be expanding this winter. Condor 265 will soon be returning from the LA Zoo, where he was taken after repeatedly approaching hikers and climbers in the high Peaks. Pismo, an adult from Oregon Zoo, will be loaned to Pinnacles as a mentor bird, and six juveniles from the Boise World Center of Birds of Prey will be arriving in January.
December 4, 2006
All Pinnacles condors except number 330 have made the 30-mile trek to interact with the Ventana Wildlife Society’s flock of condors on the coast. Ventana biologists report that during their visits, the Pinnacles birds have incorporated themselves into their new flock’s dominance hierarchy, with older Pinnacles birds like 310 and 312 being particularly assertive. Despite their new Big Sur interactions and discoveries, all Pinnacles birds still return to the monument periodically.
In addition to monitoring the Big Sur and Pinnacles condors, Ventana biologists are trapping the birds for their yearly health check, lead test, and transmitter maintenance. In the process, several Pinnacles birds have been captured. 306, 310, 312, 313, 317, and 345 have been checked-out by Pinnacles and Ventana biologists. Some birds’ blood tests indicated exposure to lead, but so far, none have required treatment. Still, lead remains a constant concern, particularly for birds like 307, who regularly forage outside the park and have yet to be tested.
In addition to lead, human contact is potentially dangerous to condors. Pinnacles biologists work hard to dole out negative reinforcement to condors that land near people or on buildings. Despite this effort, condors occasionally approach humans. In late October, condor 313 landed near climbers at Pinnacles on several occasions. Since he is a dominant bird and could spread this behavior to others, biologists have decided to hold him in the Pinnacles flight pen to strip away his social status and redirect his behavior toward climbing the dominance hierarchy. While the biologists are optimistic that 313’s behavior can be diverted, help from the public is needed. If you see a condor, please enjoy the view from a distance of at least 100 feet.
Next month, Pinnacles condor biologists will be trapping and testing the rest of the flock. Additionally, condor 265 will likely return to the monument from an extended stay at the Los Angeles Zoo. 265 was one of the first condors to be released at Pinnacles, but was removed and relocated because of his habit of approaching people. After a stint in isolation from people, zoo biologists say that he is ready to rejoin the Pinnacles flock.
September 1, 2006
August 1, 2006
June 30, 2006
June 19, 2006
June 12, 2006
June 11, 2006
Since 312 is wearing a GPS tag, we were able to see what route she took to cross the 35 mile distance from Pinnacles, and interestingly, it was a flight path that hadn?t been followed before by any of the GPS-tagged condors. Since June 7th, the 2 birds have been hanging out with their newly found friends and further GPS data suggests that other Pinnacles condors may be heading that way soon! Since the connection has now been made between the sites, it will be interesting to see how further movement patterns unfold, since summertime is the season when wind conditions are most favorable for making long distance flights. One possibility is that the rest of the Pinnacles condors make their way to Big Sur, or vice versa. Or being condors, odds are that they will surprise us and throw us an expected curve ball in the movement patterns!
Stay tuned for more updates as this exciting time period progresses.
June 2, 2006
Recent months have seen a dramatic increase in the Pinnacles flock’s range as well as their tendency to find food outside the park. All 13 of the Pinnacles condors have crossed over the Salinas valley and have begun to explore the Salinas, Carmel Valley, Monterey and Los Padres areas. This is an especially exciting development as it increases the likelihood of the Pinnacles condors making contact with the older and more established Big Sur flock. Biologists expect this rendezvous to occur any day now and are anxious to see what developments will occur as a result of it.Within the past two weeks the condors have found and fed on a few deceased cattle to the South of the park. It is encouraging to see that these birds are finding plenty of food and foraging as wild condors should. However, it is also concerning as it increases the likelihood of a condor feeding on a carcass that has been shot with lead ammunition. Thus, Biologists strive to investigate feeding sites and inspect carcasses for signs of lead to ensure the continued health of the flock. If it were not for the assistance of local ranchers and farmers many, if not all, of these meaningful wild foraging events would go undocumented. Thank you to all the landowners who have informed the park’s staff of condor activity on their property and have allowed Biologists to observe and document such occurrences; your contributions are invaluable.
March 24, 2006
Although they've been exploring new areas, they have spent quite a bit of time within the park. This could be because of the weather. The late winter was much more rainy that the early winter, and there was even a day of snow.
Biologists have been working to improve the condors' feeding system.There are two feeding areas near the pen, one with a permanenet electric fence, and one without. Biologists are now using both feeding sites. They've noticed that the condors have been spending a bit too much time on the ground. By using the feeding site without the fence, the condors will have an opportunity to encounter predators, and may be encouraged to spend more time perched in safer spots.
No condors are currently living in the flight pen, but there are plans to retrap at least three birds so that their GPS transceivers and VHF radio tags can be repaired. Biologists have noticed a problem with the mock telephone pole, and they plan to repair it before the retrapping.
The repair will be a major undertaking, because the mesh netting surrounding the pen will need to be removed and then replaced when the work is completed. Because the condors are staying in the park, monitoring is not taking as much time as usual, and biologists will have the opportunity to do the repairs.
March 3, 2006
After the trap-ups, all of the condors changed their patterns and began sticking close to the flight pen, rarely venturing out of the park. Late in the afternoons, they could often be seen roosting in the High Peaks, but they would always head back to the feeding area each morning.
At the end of February, they began making more flights outside the park, and at least three crossed the Salinas Valley and explored Los Padres National Forest. At one time, they were within ten miles of the Ventana release site. As soon as they find the group of free-flying condors in Big Sur, biologists expect them to spend more time there, or possibly encourage some of the Big Sur condors to come to Pinnacles.