Condor #986 takes his first flight. Photo courtesy of NPS/Sarah Marquez.
Condor #986 takes his first flight. Photo courtesy of NPS/Sarah Marquez.

Following a year of devastating losses totaling 24 birds, many due to the Dolan Fire and the continuing threat of lead toxicity, 11 juvenile California condors have been released into the wild, with two others waiting to be released.

On. Nov. 19 and 20, Ventana Wildlife Society released four juvenile condors from their San Simeon pen. On Dec. 12, they released the remaining three members of that cohort and an additional two birds that had recently arrived. The Pinnacles Condor Recovery Program released condors #961 and #986 from their condor pen on Nov. 23. The pair was hatched and raised at the San Diego Zoo and brought to Pinnacles National Park in September, in the hope that joining the Central Coast condor population would help bring their numbers back up. 

Condor #986. Photo courtesy of NPS/Sarah Marquez.
Condor #986. Photo courtesy of NPS/Sarah Marquez.

According to the Pinnacles program, the birds had been living in a large pen in the park prior to their release, becoming acclimated to their new environment and getting acquainted with the wild condors through the netting. When the biologists overseeing the program determined the pair were ready for release, they opened a door and allowed them to leave when they were comfortable doing so.

Pinnacles received two additional juvenile condors for release this season from the captive breeding program at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. Ventana also received two which they released on Dec.12, while Pinnacles is expected to release their birds in January. A total of 13 birds will have been released when January’s sendoff takes place.

Photo courtesy of Alacia Welch.
Photo courtesy of Alacia Welch.

Alacia Welch, acting condor recovery manager at Pinnacles National Park, said the releases are important to the population, considering the losses this year.

Thirteen juveniles is more than we usually release. We are fortunate to be able to have a few more than usual because of the loss,” she said, adding that for the birds that have been released, they’re doing “a great job of figuring out how to live in the wild.”

According to a Pinnacles Facebook post, “986, a male who had been quite self-confident inside the pen, seemed to be much more hesitant out in the big wild world—he spent most of his first day of freedom sitting on or near the pen. 961, a female who was more reserved in the pen, took the opposite approach and flew off at once after her release.

The post continues: “Despite the fact that they had never taken soaring flights, found their own food, or interacted with wild condors before, 961 and 986 are both doing an amazing job in the wild and have been keeping the condor crew entertained with their awkward antics as they learn to navigate their new world. When hiking in Pinnacles, keep an eye out for condors with tan tags numbered 61 and 86, and if you see them, wish the newest members of our flock good luck.”

Current condor numbers:

  • Central Coast/wild—90
  • Entire range—301
  • Captive—173
  • Historic low—22

Watch the Ventana condor releases here.

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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 and she reports on science and the environment....