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Central Coast California condor update 2022

Three new hatchlings have joined the flock

As of May 28, 2022 the number of California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) in the Central Coast flock is 86, three young have hatched and two nests have failed. Twenty-five birds are managed by Pinnacles National Park and 61 are managed by Ventana Wildlife Society. 

Hatchings and Mortality Statistics 2022

Hatchings:

This year’s successful nesting pair at Pinnacles is: 

  • Pinnacles male 589 and Ventana female 569. Young 1145. 

Outside of Pinnacles: 

  • Ventana male 477 and Pinnacles female 190. Young – No stud book number yet.
  • Ventana male 800 and Ventana female 747. Young – No stud book number yet.
In Memoriam. Screenshot courtesy of Ventana Wildlife Society. Condor Chat 5-26-22

Mortalities:

There have been five known deaths this year. 

  • Pinnacles 825 – Necropsy pending 
  • Pinnacles 1096 Bacterial infection 
  • Ventana 915 – Necropsy pending
  • Ventana 837 – Necropsy pending
  • Ventana 1038 – Necropsy pending

Three birds are unaccounted for and presumed dead:  

  • Ventana 663 was seen with a foot injury last fall. On Dec.8 he had lost his foot. Has not been seen since May 26.
  • Ventana 716 Last seen March 21 lethargic and weak.
  • Pinnacles 82 Mortality signal May 9

Both facilities will receive captive breed birds to be housed in holding pens and released in the fall. According to both facilities it could be up to 14 to make up for the losses of 2020 and 2011. Pinnacles expects to receive three according to Alacia Welch, Condor Recovery Program manager at Pinnacles.

While not part of the Central Coast population, it should be noted the Yurok Tribe in Humboldt County has released condors into their Redwood habitat. On May 3, two adult birds were released and another has been released since then. There is another bird expected to be released soon. The program will continue to release captive-bred birds over the coming years. 

589 and 569 on the High Peaks Pinnacles National Park. Used by permission of PNP

Threats 

Lead

This remains the greatest threat to condor recovery. Welch said in 2021 five birds died from lead toxicity. She added that right now the supply of non-lead ammunition is low so lead use could be increased until the supply chain changes. Ventana executive director, Kelly Sorenson  agreed with this. Ventana offers free non-lead ammunition but it has been unavailable since COVID-19 regulations and mandates began to affect the supply chain. Simply put,  “you can’t buy what is not available,” he said.

DDT 

The Environmental Science & Technology Journal published a piece about a recent study which has shown that coastal condors have DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) or derivatives such DDE (Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene) in their blood. DDT disrupts estrogen production and  it causes eggshell thinning. The birds get the chemical from feeding on marine carrion. The chemical is found in abundance in tissue of sea life. 

Ventana disputes the finding that it could be affecting Central Coast hatch rates. Sorenson told BenitoLink there is no difference in the hatch rates of Central Coast birds and Southern California birds who are found inland and do not feed on coastal carrion. He added they would be releasing their own study soon regarding hatch rates and DDE soon. 

Avian Flu (Bird Flu) 

According to Ventana Wildlife Society the Avian Flu has not been found yet in California condors but their veterinary advisors tell them condors could be impacted. 

West Nile Virus, a disease that kills birds, the crow family being the most susceptible, does not appear a threat to New World vultures but as a precaution condors are vaccinated against it. 

Habitat Loss

Since much of their range is protected, this has become less of a threat over the years.

Population as of Dec. 31, 2022:

  • Wild Global 334
  • Captive 203 
  • Total 537

Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.