The final two juvenile California condors from the latest six-bird cohort managed by the Ventana Wildlife Society (VWS) were set free from the mountains high above San Simeon on Jan. 29.
“Narcissa,” a female, left the fly pen at noon that day, and “Sirius,” a male, departed 30 minutes later; both just “stared at the open door” for quite awhile before they took “the big plunge,” said Joe Burnett, Ventana’s lead biologist.
For those 2-year-old condors, raised in captivity and hatched in May and June 2017, “freedom is a scary thing,” Burnett wrote in an email.
The recent release brought the total number to 22 of juvenile condors that have been released in the steep, craggy, mountainous terrain above San Simeon since fall 2016. Of those 22 birds, outfitted with GPS on their wings (condors have 9-1/2 foot wingspans), 19 have survived and are beginning to explore the Central Coast and beyond.
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“It’s important to note that two died of lead poisoning,” Burnett said. “We continue to operate our ‘Free Non-Lead Ammunition Program’ to encourage hunters and ranchers to make the switch” from lead ammunition.
The goal of VWS — which will release six more juvenile condors in the late fall — is to establish a flock of the huge birds in the North Coast region of San Luis Obispo County.
The rocky, heavily wooded terrain above San Simeon affords numerous wind-carved caves and hollowed-out trees that are ideal for condors to raise their chicks once they reach 5 years of age and begin mating.
Juvenile condors raised in captivity “tend to stay close the first couple weeks before venturing out,” Burnett said. “Occasionally, a newly released condor will take a longer flight within the first day or two and end up near Cambria or Cayucos.”
VWS asks that residents “be on the lookout… we just never know exactly what they will do… they can cover distances of 5 to 10 miles in minutes.”
The recently released juveniles are fully grow but don’t yet have the signature red-orange head color. If you see a condor, Burnett asks you call 831-455-9514.
California condors are coming back from near extinction but remain critically endangered. Their original range included much of North America as thousands of these iconic birds — the largest flying land birds in the U.S. — fed on the carcasses of dead whales and seals. Today, there are an estimated 175 condors flying free in and around Big Sur, Pinnacles National Park, Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex and now San Simeon.
For more information on how to obtain lead-free ammunition (use of lead ammo will be against the law in July 2019), visit www.ventaws.org.