North American condor population increases
Following a year that saw 17 deaths from avian flu in the southwestern flock, the Central Coast flock of California condors saw the hatching of five young and the expected fall release of 10 juveniles from the release pen in San Simeon. These birds will bring the Central Coast population to 103, up from 86 reported in May 2022.
Last year, there were 537 reported condors worldwide. As of August 2023, there are 559 condors. Of those, 345 live in the wild and 93 are part of the Central Coast Flock.
According to Alacia Welch, condor program manager at Pinnacles Condor Recovery Program, two of the young are part of the program’s managed birds and the other three are managed by Ventana Wildlife Society.
This year’s wild nesting pairs include:
- Condor #340 and #236, producing chick #1238
- Condor #589 and #569, producing chick #1215
- Condor #646 and #204, producing chick #1204
- Condor #538 and #219, producing chick #1229
- Conder #550 and #652, producing chick #1230
The California condor was first listed as an endangered species in 1967.
Avian flu remains a concern and according to Ventana Wildlife Society vaccine trials have been carried out in black vultures, which are found on the East Coast, and administration to wild living condors could begin in September.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are two species of vultures in California—the California condor and the turkey vulture.
The pathogen has been detected in San Benito and Monterey counties in several bird species including turkey vultures.
Since May seven birds have flown to and back from the Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge condor recovery program site in Kern County and met up with the Southern California flock. Welch said that in July condor #1027, a three-year-old female, returned to Southern California and has yet to fly back to the Central Coast flock. She said it is too soon to say if she will stay, added that the Condor Recovery Program hopes the flocks become one.
The 10 birds in San Simeon came from different captive breeding programs around the country and Ventana expects to release them in the fall. Two of these birds will be managed by Pinnacles.
Lead toxicity, which primarily comes from ammunition, remains the highest cause of condor mortality.
History of recovery program from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website:
- In 1979, when there were 25 to 35 condors in the wild and one in captivity, the California Condor Conservation Program was formed.
- From 1980 to 1987, field investigations and management programs were undertaken, including radio telemetry studies of birds and captive incubation of wild-collected eggs.
- In 1987, the last wild condor was removed from the wild, and all 27 condors left in the world were being kept in breeding facilities at the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
- In 1988, the first California condor chick hatched in captivity.
- From 1989 to 1991, female Andean condors were released and studied to assess reintroduction techniques.
- In 1992, two of the captive-bred California condors were released in Ventura County, five years after the last wild birds had been captured.
- In 1993, a third condor breeding center was established at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.
- By 1994, the captive condors had laid more than 100 eggs.
- In 2003, a fourth condor breeding center was established at the Oregon Zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation in Clackamas County Oregon.
- Releases were undertaken in Santa Barbara County beginning in late 1993; in San Luis Obispo County in early 1996; in northern Arizona beginning in late 1996, and in Monterey County beginning in 1997; Baja Mexico in 2002; and San Benito County in 2003.
- Additional release sites were added; along the Big Sur coastline in 1997; in Pinnacles National Monument in 2003; in Arizona near Grand Canyon National Park in 1996; and in Baja California, Mexico in Sierra San Pedro de Martir National Park in 2002.
- The first nesting in Central California by free flying condors in over 100 years was documented in 2006. A Big Sur condor pair was found nesting in the burned-out cavity of a coastal redwood tree.
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