Environment / Nature

Dolan Fire devastates Central Coast condor population

Pinnacles National Park and Ventana Wildlife Society say it’s ‘the single biggest loss of condors from a wildfire since releases began in California in 1992.’

Eleven condors on the Central Coast are presumed to have perished in the Dolan Fire, which burned in Big Sur in August. The Pinnacles National Park and Ventana Wildlife Society joint condor recovery programs released a statement on Oct. 27 on the effect of the fire on the Central Coast condor population.

The statement referred to the loss of 11 birds as “the single biggest loss of condors from a wildfire since releases began in California in 1992.”

The Dolan Fire started Aug. 18 along the Big Sur coast, a few miles south of the condor sanctuary. It swept through the sanctuary on Aug. 20, including popular condor roosts and active nest sites. It also destroyed the condor release pen and research facility.

Pinnacles Condor Recovery Crew member Gavin Emmons taking #1033 from nest. Photo courtesy of Alacia Welch.
Pinnacles Condor Recovery Crew member Gavin Emmons taking #1033 from nest. Photo courtesy of Alacia Welch.

Prior to the fire, eight pairs of condors nested in Central California, with five in the coastal mountains of Big Sur. From Aug. 18-23, four condor nests near the sanctuary in Big Sur burned and two condors were lost. As the fire advanced eastward in late August, it threatened a nest near Junipero Serra Peak. Just days before the fire reached that nest, condor biologists from Ventana and Pinnacles evacuated nestling #1033.

Photo courtesy of Ventana Wildlife Society.
Photo courtesy of Ventana Wildlife Society.

Of the 11 condors lost to the fire, Ventana managed 10 and Pinnacles managed one. Of the four adults, condor #167 and condor #448 were tending to nests. Two adults, #375 and #678, were of breeding age and paired with other condors, but not actively nesting. Five juvenile condors, #773, #789, #875, #992 and #1004, and nestlings #1022 and #1029, also died.

Since the fire, Ventana and Pinnacles field crews have seen four condors with burn injuries, including peeling skin from the legs and feet, large scabs on the keel or face, and alternating stripes of pink and white on the head and neck. The statement noted that “this is an ongoing situation and additional condors may be observed with burns in the future.”

Burns and injuries from the Dolan Fire. Photo courtesy of Ventana Wildlife Society.
Burns and injuries from the Dolan Fire. Photo courtesy of Ventana Wildlife Society.

Following the Dolan Fire, biologists were unsure if six-month-old nestling #1031 had sustained injuries, as field observations showed she was lethargic. On Oct. 4, crews installed a video camera to view the nest and showed condor #190—a female who survived the fire—returning regularly to feed her chick and the chick behaving normally. However, since the joint statement was issued, #1031 fell from her nest and sustained injuries.

Ventana Wildlife Society decided the chick’s best chance of survival was to be raised in captivity, and she was then transported to the Los Angeles Zoo.

Alacia Welch, acting condor program manager at Pinnacles National Park, told BenitoLink #1031 will be raised with the zoo’s other juveniles. They expect that she will be released back into the Central Coast population when she is old enough.

“She will be held down there with all of the young birds they reared in captivity until next year when she will be a candidate for coming back up here for release,” Welch said.

The joint recovery program released the following information about the condors lost to the Dolan Fire or impacted by it:

Condors missing and presumed dead

  1. Condor #167 was a 23-year-old male that hatched in captivity on May 6, 1997. He was originally released into the wild in Big Sur on Dec. 12, 1997. He was actively nesting with female condor #190, parent of nestling #1031.
  2. Condor #375 was a 15-year-old female that hatched in captivity on May 2, 2005. She was originally released into the wild in Big Sur on June 4, 2006. She paired with condor #330, but was not nesting in 2020.
  3. Condor #448 was a 13-year-old male that hatched in captivity on May 8, 2007. He was originally released into the wild at Pinnacles National Park on Nov. 6, 2008. He was actively nesting with female condor #543, parent of nestling #1022.
  4. Condor #678 was a seven-year-old female that hatched in captivity on March 9, 2013. She was originally released into the wild in San Simeon on Nov. 10, 2016 and paired with condor #700 who nested earlier in 2020, but was not nesting at the time of the Dolan Fire.
  5. Condor #773 was a five-year-old male that hatched in the wild in Big Sur on March 22, 2015.
  6. Condor #789 was a five-year-old male that hatched in the wild in Big Sur on April 23, 2015.
  7. Condor #875 was a three-year-old female that hatched in captivity on April 29, 2017. She was released into the wild in San Simeon on Dec. 7, 2018.
  8. Condor #992 was a one-and-a-half-year-old female hatched in the wild in Big Sur on April 18, 2019.
  9. Condor #1004 was a one-and-a-half-year-old female hatched in the wild near San Simeon on July 10, 2019.
  10. Condor #1022 was a five-month-old nestling of unknown sex that hatched in the wild in Big Sur on April 27 to parents #448 and #543.
  11. Condor #1029 was a three-and-a-half-month-old nestling of unknown sex that hatched in Big Sur on April 10 to parents #567 and #311.

Condors impacted or injured

  1. Condor #543 was an 11-year-old female that hatched in captivity on May 29, 2009. She was actively nesting with #448, parent of nestling #1022. She was found dead on Oct. 10 and there was evidence of healing burns on her legs/feet and possibly head/neck. It is unknown at this time if the burns contributed to her death.
  2. Condor #567 was a 10-year-old male that hatched in the wild in Big Sur on April 25, 2010. He was actively nesting with female #311, parent of nestling #1029. He suffered burns to his head/neck, feet, and breast area. He was captured in the wild on Oct. 1 suffering from acute lead toxicosis and died on Oct. 10. It is unknown at this time if the burns contributed to his death.
  3. Condor #711 is a seven-year-old male that hatched in captivity on May 20, 2013. He was released into the wild in San Simeon on Oct. 14, 2015. He was seen with healing burns on his head/neck.
  4. Condor #901 is a three-year-old male that hatched in the wild in Big Sur on May 25, 2017. He was captured in October with extensive burns on his legs and keel.
  5. Condor #1031 is a six-month-old nestling that hatched on April 25 in Los Padres National Forest to parents #167 and #190. Condor #167 was lost in the fire, but #190 survived.
  6. Condor #1033 is a six-month-old female nestling that hatched on April 6 in Los Padres National Forest to parents #219 and #231. She was evacuated from the nest before the fire burned through and is expected to be raised in captivity.

Other related BenitoLink articles:

https://benitolink.com/central-coast-condors-fall-victim-to-dolan-fire/

 

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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.