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Second-Generation Condors Found Nesting in Wild

Miracle and Nomad are wild offspring of captive-born California Condors

Miracle and Nomad are making condor history.
Miracle and Nomad are making condor history. (Ventana Wildlife Society)

Ventana Wildlife Society biologists have confirmed the existence of a nest by a pair of second-generation, wild-hatched California Condors, marking a major milestone for the California Condor Recovery Program. The last time a wild-born pair of condors nested in the wild in California was in 1985.

Condor #538, aka Miracle, was hatched in the wild in Central California in 2009, and her mate, Condor  #574, aka Nomad, was wild-born in 2010. Both are the wild offspring of captive-born condors that were released in Central California.

This second-generation pair established a territory last year and biologists were anticipating a nest attempt this year.

On July 6, VWS biologists successfully located the nest on the Big Sur coast and confirmed the presence of a 2-month old condor chick (#892).

The nest is in a large, hollowed-out cavity in an older growth coastal redwood, a favorite nest choice for the coastal flock. The cavity is about halfway up the redwood tree and about 70 feet off the ground in a steep coastal canyon.

Biologists observed the mother, Miracle, fly in and feed the chick inside the cavity. The nest cavity was formed by a wildfire that left a sizable space for the chick to wing flap and stretch.

Condors also nest in caves, but fire-carved cavities in redwoods like this one are the most common on the coast.  The chick is over 3 months old and weighs more than 10 pounds. Condor chicks typically leave the nest (or fledge) at 6-7 months old.
 
Since condors began nesting in 2001, more than 60 chicks were produced in the wild in southern and central California combined.

“It is exciting that the next generation of condors are beginning to nest in the wild and even more exciting for the people who have worked so long to achieve this goal such as my dedicated staff,” said executive director Kelly Sorenson.
 
Lead poisoning from ingestion of spent lead ammunition is still the leading survival threat to condors.

In 2008, the use of lead ammunition was prohibited in the condor range in California to enable the condor’s recovery to the wild. California will implement a statewide ban on the taking of all wildlife with lead ammunition by July 2019.

Additionally, Ventana Wildlife Society conducts the state’s only free nonlead ammunition giveaway program to help hunters and ranchers switch away from lead ammunition. Since 2012, more than 4,500 boxes of nonlead ammunition were given away in the condor range, also benefitting the wild flock.

“The ultimate goal of the recovery program is the establishment of a reproductively self-sustaining population of wild condors,” said Steve Kirkland, U.S. Fish and Wildife Service condor field coordinator.

“The fact that we are beginning to see wild-hatched chicks reach breeding age and successfully hatch their own chicks in the wild is another positive step toward this goal.,” Kirkland said.

"The birds know what to do. Now it’s a matter of reducing the amount of spent lead ammunition in the food chain,” he said.

“The use of non-lead ammunition when taking wildlife provides a beneficial food source for California condors, golden eagles and other scavenging species, instead of one that is toxic,” he said.
 
Joe Burnett, condor program manager said, “I watched Miracle and Nomad grow up over the years (like my own kids) and always hoped they would pair up and nest. Seeing their chick firsthand was truly an incredible sight and was so great to see the flock come full circle.”
 
Significant condor conservation milestones:
 
• 1602 – First recorded condor sighting by a European, Father Antonio de la Ascension, in Monterey Bay.
 
• 1805 – Lewis and Clark report sighting a condor, calling it "beautiful buzzard of the Columbia".
 
• 1939 – National Audubon Society researcher Carl Koford begins landmark field studies. Koford estimates 60-100 condors remain in the wild.
 
• 1967 – California Condor is included in the first federal list of U.S. endangered species.
 
• 1979 – Some 25-35 California Condors remain in the wild. Cooperative California Condor Conservation Program is formed.
 
• 1982 – Only 22 California Condors remain in the wild.
 
• 1983 – First successful hatching for a wild California Condor egg in captivity.
 
• 1987 – Last wild California Condor taken into captivity. Only 27 condors remain in captive breeding facilities at Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park.
 
• 1988 – First successful breeding of captive California Condors at the San Diego Zoo.
 
• 1992 – Two captive-bred California Condors reintroduced into the wild, accompanied by two Andean condors
 
• 1997 – Releases begin in Monterey County by Ventana Wildlife Society
 
• 2002 – First chick born in the wild successfully fledges in Ventura County. Condors are released in Baja California.
 
• 2003 – Condors are released at Pinnacles National Monument, San Benito County, California.
 
• 2006 – First nesting attempt for the re-introduced flock in Big Sur. The nest fails and eggshell fragments recovered are found to be thin. Condors in this flock observed feeding on a Gray Whale carcass for the first time in over 200 years.
 
• 2008 – First chick from a wild-laid egg fledges in the wild in Big Sur and survives, two additional chicks from captive-laid eggs fledge and one survives. The number of free-flying condors exceeds the number in captivity for first time in over 20 years. The use of lead bullets is prohibited in condor range.
 
• 2009 – First nest in San Benito County. In central California, 4 chicks successfully fledge in the wild and survive (one from a wild-laid egg and three from captive-laid eggs).
 
• 2013 – Assembly Bill 711 is passed requiring the use of non-lead ammunition when taking wildlife throughout California. A difficult year for the central California population, due to the deaths of several more condors and reproductive failure at all local nests. The central California population dips to 61 birds, and the global population is 217 birds in the wild and 203 in captivity (as of September).
 
• By Dec. 31, 2016, a total of 72 confirmed condor deaths attributed to lead toxicosis since 1984.
 
• First second-generation wild-hatched condors raising a chick in the wild since 1985 in California. Total wild population is 276 free-flying condors.

For more information, visit http://www.ventanaws.org.

— Kelly Sorenson for Ventana Wildlife Society.

 

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