Being bigger doesn't always guarantee survival, and the largest land birds in North America—the California condor—are a good example. These birds have a wing span of up to nine and one-half feet, but they are considered to be among the rarest birds on the planet.
In the 1980s, only about 25 of the condors were known to exist, and the survival of the species hinged on a captive breeding program. That effort is making slow but steady progress; the first captive-bred California Condors were reintroduced in California in 1992, and there are now 180 birds in the wild and a similar number in captivity.
Pinnacles National Monument has been a part of the California Condor Recovery Program since 2003, and the park now manages 22 free-flying condors. Up to two more birds are scheduled to join that population on Saturday, September 26, and the public is welcome to observe their release—from a suitable distance.
Information from the park notes that "up to two" birds will be set free this weekend, and there's a reason for the ambivalence.
Because we use a passive release method, there is a chance the juvenile condors may not leave the holding pen. Even so, there will be a good chance to see already free-flying condors.
All of Pinnacles’ releases have been “soft releases” using a double-door trap because it is less stressful on the birds. This technique relies on using a special trap built into the side of the flight pen, one door being open to the inside of the pen and the other to outside and freedom. The interior door normally remains open to allow the condors to become familiar with the interior of the trap. For release purposes, once a condor enters the trap, the inner door is closed and the outer door is opened to allow it to fly free.
Four juvenile condors—two female and two male—will be set free in Pinnacles National Monument this fall, joining the park’s twenty two wild resident condors. Up to 2 birds may be released on September 26, and once these birds give indications that are acclimating to their new surroundings, the park plans to release the remaining juveniles over the following weeks.
The juvenile condors are a result of successful captive breeding programs at the Oregon Zoo and Peregrine Fund World Center of Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.
If you'd like to witness the event, here's what you need to know:
The public is invited to attend the event to witness the first free flights of these condors from a viewing area located approximately ¾ mile from the release site. This viewing area is normally closed to the public.
Arrival at the park between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. is recommended in order to reach the viewing area before the ceremony begins at 10 a.m. The event will take place on the east side of the park off of Highway 25. Shuttle services from designated parking areas will transport guests to within 1.5 miles of the viewing area. Guests unable to walk the trail can request special assistance [Contact the park in advance at (831) 389-4486 to request those arrangements.]
Spotting scopes, binoculars, water, layered clothing, and comfortable hiking shoes are highly recommended for all participants.
Car pooling is encouraged since parking is limited, and is on a first come, first served basis. Because of the significance of this event and the desire to make it accessible to everyone, Superintendent Eric Brunnemann has scheduled the event to coincide with National Public Lands Day, a day when entrance fees are waived at all National Park sites.
“We are encouraged by the success of this program and the support of the local communities and park neighbors,” said Brunnemann. “The return of the California condor to the central coast of California provides excellent opportunities for condor viewing in the park, and we are proud to be a part of the recovery of this magnificent species.”
More information about the park's condor program, including condor video, photos from the CondorCam and tips on where you might see a bird in the wild, is available here.