Female California condor 563 stands over her newly hatched chick on April 10 in a nest cavity now fitted with a live-streaming video camera in the Pole Canyon area of the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Bluish colored egg fragments are visible. (Photo Credit: Pacific Southwest Region USFWS.)
Source: Santa Barbara Zoo
People across the world can get up-close-and-personal with an endangered California condor chick in real-time through live streaming video of a cliff-side nest in a canyon on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, California.
California condor chick #980 hatched on April 10. Its parents are nine-year-old female condor #563 and 19-year-old male condor #262. This is the pair’s first nesting attempt together and their first year on the livestreaming Condor Cam as a pair. This is female condor #563’s second attempt at raising a chick, and the chick’s father, condor #262, fledged one other chick in the past with a previous mate.
Followers of the California Condor Cam watched a chick hatch live in the wild for the first time in history from another cliff-side nest on Hopper Mountain NWR in 2015. Since then, livestreaming video of California condor chicks have gained worldwide attention – attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers from all over the world.
“Today’s technology allows researchers like us to observe nests in remote locations without having to trek into the backcountry and wait for days, sometimes weeks, at observation blinds for a glimpse of the condors,” says Dr. Estelle Sandhaus, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s director of conservation and science. “With this live stream, the public can share in the thrill of seeing these rare and highly endangered birds care for their chick, and follow its development before it takes its first flight. What was once only seen by a few scientists is now available to anyone with an internet connection.”
In California, wild condors nest, roost or fly in the mountains of Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties, and the western Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The 2018 nesting season was a record-breaking one, with 12 nests in the mountains of Ventura, Santa Barbara and Kern counties. Six of those nests were successful, the most ever in the Southern California flock.
“The success of last year’s nesting season was really monumental for the condor recovery program and a testament to the hard work of all the partners involved in this effort,” said Nicole Weprin, wildlife biologist with the Service’s California Condor Recovery Program. “We’re hopeful for another successful nesting season this year, and thrilled that the public can share in our excitement by watching the Condor Cam.”
The number of California condors dropped dramatically in the mid-20th century, leading the Service to designate the species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. By 1982 there were only 22 of the iconic birds left in the wild. Today, due to intensive, ongoing captive breeding and recovery efforts led by the Service in conjunction with multiple public and private partners, the California condor population has grown to just under 490 birds worldwide, with more than half of the population flying free.
Today the number one killer of California condors is lead poisoning, caused by condors feeding on carcasses containing lead bullet fragments. Peer-reviewed research shows that lead poisoning is a serious health problem for both wildlife and humans, and the Service is working with partner organizations and the hunting community as it transitions to the use of non-lead ammunition alternatives. Hunters are continuing their proud tradition of wildlife conservation by using these non-lead alternatives.
Another threat specific to condor chicks is “micro trash.” Micro trash are small coin-sized trash items such as, nuts, bolts, washers, copper wire, plastic, bottle caps, glass, and spent ammunition cartridges. Condor parents collect these items and feed them to their chick, which can cause serious problems with the chick’s development. While it is not completely understood why this occurs, many biologists believe that the condor parents mistake these items for pieces of bone and shell which provides a source of calcium if fed to the chick.
Conservation efforts toward the recovery of the California condor are achieved only through partnerships amongst federal and state agencies, together with private landowners and organizations. The Pole Canyon Condor Cam is made possible through access provided by private landowners, and through the financial and technical support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Barbara Zoo, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and Friends of California Condors Wild and Free.
“The condor cams are unlike any other offering on the internet. Each year we’ve streamed from a different site and pair, and the differences among all these nests and individuals have given viewers a unique opportunity to understand more of the richness and variability of the condor’s life history,” said Charles Eldermire, Cornell Lab Bird Cams project leader. “That’s not just good for viewers—it’s good for the condors, too.”
To watch the Condor Cam, visit: www.allaboutbirds.org/condors