Thursday, March 30, 2006

ENV: Condors on Big Sur!

Condor nest spotted in Big Sur
Rare find: First such sighting locally in 100 years
By KEVIN HOWE, Staff Writer, Monterey Herald

The first California condor nest seen in a century in Monterey County was spotted by a wildlife biologist Monday in a hollow redwood tree on the Big Sur Coast.

The discovery is an important milestone in the effort to reintroduce condors into the wild, said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society.

The society has been releasing condors raised in captivity on the Big Sur Coast since 1996 and at Pinnacles National Monument since 2004.

The nesting pair was seen and photographed by Wildlife Society condor biologist Joseph Brandt after he saw the birds had apparently taken up housekeeping in the redwood tree.

The condors were identified as a 9-year-old male, Condor 167, and an 8-year-old female, Condor 190.

"Although the view into the cavity is very limited and we can't actually see the egg," said the society's senior wildlife biologist Joe Burnet, "we strongly suspect they have an egg, based on their behavior on the nest site."

Breeding condors typically take turns sitting on the egg, with the male and female changing shifts every two or three days, he said, and they never leave the nest unattended for more than a few minutes. That behavior by this pair, he added, "is a clear sign that they are tending to an egg."

Brandt and his colleagues homed in on the discovery by observing that Condor 190 was remaining perched in view on a redwood tree nearby.

Confirmation of the nest sighting "is truly an historic moment for the California condor in Monterey County," Sorenson said.

It is not only the first documented nesting by condors in the county in 100 years, he said, but the first pair seen nesting in a redwood tree.

Condors usually nest in the cavities of cliffs.

Condor 167 was hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and released Dec. 12, 1997. Condor 190 was released Jan. 19, 1999.

The first wild condor chick to take flight in California in 22 years left its nest in Ventura County in October 2004. That bird was hatched the previous April near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge and the mother had been released in Big Sur by the Ventana Wildlife Society.

Most condors continue to be bred in captivity. There are an estimated 276 living, but some of those released have died from lead poisoning after consuming bullets or shotgun pellets while eating the carcasses of shot game, and by electrocution after landing on high-tension power lines.

The society, the only nonprofit organization in California releasing condors into the wild, is a member of the California Condor Recovery Program, which consists of a number of governmental and nongovernmental agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Los Angeles Zoo and the state Department of Fish and Game.

About 50 condors, the largest land birds in North America, have been turned loose during annual releases in Big Sur.

Last October, the carcass of another male, Condor No. 164, was discovered in Ventura County, the eighth condor released by the society to have died.

That bird's death was a setback for the society's goal of establishing breeding pairs in the wild, Sorenson said, because the condor had reached breeding age and its aggressive nature made it a natural candidate to be a breeder.

There are 38 condors in the wild in Central California, Sorenson said, and the society has set a goal of establishing 150 condors in the wild with 15 breeding pairs.

More info from the Ventana Wildlife Society

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