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Condor News
Ventana Wildlife Society works with Big Creek Reserve to feed recovering condors

The Ventana Wildlife Society has been releasing condors in Big Sur since 1997. They started condor releases at Pinnacles National Monument in collaboration with NPS in 2003 and has recently been using Big Creek Reserve as a feeding site with great success. Big Creek is a supplemental feeding site for the Big Sur and Pinnacles condor flocks. The Big Creek feeding site has not only attracted condors farther south, away from populated areas of Big Sur, but the parents who built one of the two nests in the area are feeding here. These are the parents who fledged a chick on September 26, 2007, the first in over 100 years (see article below). VWS put a motion camera at the feeding site to see what was coming to the free meal. You can see the variety of visitors in the pictures below, as well as some exciting interactions! The team has now added a second feeding site at Big Creek and hopes that the newly fledged chick will follow its parents. The latest report is that the second feeding site seems to be working as up to 13 condors at a time have been showing up at Big Creek.

Motion cameras allow wildlife biologists to observe more feeding activity that would be possible by site visits. It also allows them to verify how many condors are visiting the sites. We currently are looking for funding for more motion cameras to document wildlife at Big Creek Reserve. Please email the Director at to find out how you can help.


Go to the Ventana Wildlife Society condor recovery website to see more images and some videos of the local hatchlings.

Recent news


Condor missing after eagle attack

The Monterey County Herald


The first condor chick to hatch in Monterey County in more than 100 years is missing, said officials with the Ventana Wildlife Society's Condor Recovery Program.

The missing condor, named Centennia, was fully grown and flying on her own at the time of her disappearance, said Joe Burnett, wildlife biologist for the Condor Recovery Program. Centennia was last seen Dec. 4.

"She was doing very well up until the time of her disappearance," Burnett said.

An intern with the program, Deborah Visco, said she witnessed an "aggressive attack" on the condor by a golden eagle Dec. 4.

"The chick appeared OK after defending herself very well from the attack," Burnett said.

Biologists presume Centennia was killed by the eagle, Burnett said, "but we have no way of ever knowing for sure."

He called the loss "a temporary setback" to the condor recovery effort in Big Sur. "It's still a major milestone for the program. This was the first attempt for this pair of condor (parents), and it won't be their last.


State commission imposes lead ammunition ban to protect condor

By SAMANTHA YOUNG, Associated Press Writer

Friday, December 7, 2007

It will be illegal for hunters to possess or fire lead ammunition when they are in California condor habitat under regulations adopted Friday by a state commission.

By a vote of 3-1, the California Fish and Game Commission expanded the state's lead ammunition ban in an effort to safeguard North America's largest flying bird.

"It's pretty clear lead poisoning is one of the major factors preventing recovery of the species," said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's another step in getting lead out of the food chain."

The condor was once found from coast to coast, but hunting, pesticides and development drove the birds to the brink of extinction. The federal government declared the bird endangered in 1967.

Scientists for years have said condors are poisoned when they ingest lead while feeding on the bullet-ridden carcasses of other animals. But regulators have been slow to act.

Earlier this summer, commissioner R. Judd Hanna said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration asked him to resign after he clashed with the National Rifle Association over pending condor protections.

Schwarzenegger signed a bill several months later that banned most lead ammunition, but the commission's decision goes further.

Commission president Richard Rogers said the panel needed concrete evidence before it could act. That came this summer when a team of scientists from the University of California, Santa Cruz, linked the lead in condors' blood to that in lead bullets.

"The problem was we could never identify what lead it was because there are multiple sources of lead in the environment," Rogers said. "Now we had a smoking gun and we were able to have direct connectivity between the lead in the bullet and the condor."

The regulation bans hunters from using lead ammunition in .22 caliber or smaller guns — often used to kill smaller animals like squirrels and rabbits — that lawmakers did not include because there are no non-lead bullets on the market for those guns. Commissioners said they hoped their rule would encourage manufacturers to make alternatives.

The owners of antique guns and hunters who make their own ammunition must also carry nonleaded bullets or pellets when they are in condor habitat, an area that encompasses most of California's central coast. Ammunition will be considered lead-free if it contains less than 1 percent lead.

The rules do not apply to game partridge and quail, or to game bird hunters or permits given to people to shoot nuisance or predatory animals.

In 1987, the last 22 wild condors were trapped and taken to zoos for a breeding program that raised their population to just under 300. Now some 200 condors are in the wild, with about 60 flying in California.

The regulation will take effect July 1, 2008.



Schwarzenegger Approves Historic Condor Protection Bill
Requires Non-lead Ammunition for Big-game Hunting in Condor Habitat


SACRAMENTO, Calif .– California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today approved an historic protection measure for endangered California condors, signing Assembly Bill 821 (Nava, D-Santa Barbara), the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act. The new law will require hunters to use non-lead ammunition for hunting big game and coyotes within the condor range in central and southern California, beginning July 1, 2008.

“The Condor Preservation Act will significantly reduce lead poisoning of condors in California and is an important first step in getting lead out of the food chain,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are looking to the Fish and Game Commission to take the next step and ensure that non-lead ammunition is used for all other hunting activities in the condor range, and to phase in a statewide switch to non-lead ammunition to protect other wildlife poisoned by lead, such as eagles.”

The California Fish and Game Commission is currently considering several options for changing state hunting regulations to protect condors, which could go further than the Condor Preservation Act. Options include expanding the range of the non-lead ammunition requirement to encompass the historic condor range and implementing statewide regulations. The Commission is expected to vote on the lead ammunition regulations at its November 1st meeting in Sacramento.

The California condor is one of the world's most endangered species. Only 127 of the birds currently fly free in the wild, 70 of them in California. Lead poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition in carcasses is the leading cause of death for reintroduced condors. Since 1992 at least 12 condor deaths in California have been caused by lead poisoning, and dozens more poisoned condors have required invasive, life-saving chelation therapy to “de-lead” their blood after feeding on lead-tainted carcasses.

Five scientific studies published in 2006 provided overwhelming evidence that the lead poisoning of condors comes from ammunition fragments in carcasses and gut piles left behind in the condor range by hunters. In July 2007 more than 45 prominent wildlife biologists signed a “ Statement of Scientific Agreement ” concluding that lead ammunition is the primary source of the lead that is poisoning condors.

The governor last month apparently forced the resignation of Commissioner Judd Hanna, a Republican and hunter whom he appointed in February, for his comments supporting lead ammunition regulations. Hanna was fired after 24 Republican legislators, at the behest of the National Rifle Association, demanded Hanna be removed. Schwarzenegger was expected to veto the condor legislation, but was widely criticized for caving to NRA pressure and firing Hanna.

The Nava bill was introduced after a coalition of health and conservation organizations, hunters and American Indians launched a “Get the Lead Out” campaign to eliminate lead bullets from condor habitat. The bill passed the state senate on September 5 (23-15) and the assembly on May 14 (42-32). In 2004 the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups petitioned the Commission to end the use of lead ammunition for hunting statewide, and in 2006 filed a lawsuit against the state for continuing to allow hunting with toxic lead ammunition that harms condors.

Safe, reliable non-lead bullets and shot made from copper and other materials are widely available for big-game hunting and perform as well as, or better than, lead ammunition. Federal law already requires the use of non-lead shot for waterfowl hunting, to prevent lead poisoning of waterfowl and eagles. In a recent Peregrine Fund study of deer killed by hunters, X-rays revealed that lead bullets explode into dozens of tiny pieces. Half the deer carcasses were riddled with at least 100 lead fragments, raising human health concerns for those eating wild game shot with lead ammunition.

At a hearing on August 27, the Commission received overwhelming testimony from condor-recovery managers, toxicologists, and the Los Angeles Zoo, where poisoned condors are treated, that poisoning from lead ammunition fragments is impeding the recovery of the condor and regulations requiring non-lead ammunition are needed. Ammunition manufacturers and hunters testified that numerous calibers of non-lead bullets are currently available for big-game hunting, ammunition manufacturers and retailers are capable of quickly responding to an increase in non-lead bullet demand, and the cost of non-lead bullets is not a significant factor that will deter or impede hunting. The Condor Preservation Act proposes a coupon program to provide hunters within the condor range non-lead ammunition at no or reduced charge.

More information about the lead poisoning threat can be found at


9/26/07 Condor chick makes first flight

Centennia eases concerns of biologists By KEVIN HOWE
Herald Staff Writer Article Last Updated: 09/28/2007 01:28:40 AM PDT

Centennia has set another record.

The first California condor chick successfully hatched in the wild in Monterey County in more than 100 years, Centennia took her first flight from her cave nest in Big Sur on Wednesday, said Joe Burnett, senior wildlife biologist with the Ventana Wildlife Society.

It was another landmark this year in the Wildlife Society's condor recovery program, he said, accomplished by the same bird.

"She's out on the wing. She is now an official wild-fledged bird. It's a pretty historic day."

Burnett, who led the team that placed Centennia's egg in the nest so it could hatch and be raised by foster parents, said the flight was reported Wednesday night by fellow Ventana wildlife biologist Brett Stauffer.

Stauffer watched the fledgling's flight with some trepidation, Burnett said.

"We worry when they take their first flight. That's the time of highest risk of injury to a chick, but she did OK. She made kind of a controlled crash-landing in some brush. She's sitting at the base of the nest cliff. It's about as natural and normal as you could expect."

Up to now, condors have been hatched and raised in captivity and released from a pen in the mountains of Big Sur, Burnett said. The fledglings had been prepared for release by human trainers.

This time, he said, wildlife biologists will be able to watch and see how the young condor learns from her parents how to forage and survive in the wild.

"Mom and dad are attending it at a new location outside the nest," Burnett said. "With each flight, it gets more and more experience. In a week it should be getting around pretty well. There's a pretty fast learning curve once they get out there."

Scientists will observe the nurturing pair and their foster chick's interactions and training, he said, to learn more about the condors' natural behavior.

Centennia was hatched from an egg brought from the Los Angeles Zoo.

The nesting pair had laid their own egg that was discovered Feb. 23, but it was taken from the nest because another nesting pair failed to hatch an egg last year, said Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society executive director.

When their egg was taken to the zoo for incubation, it was replaced by a wooden surrogate egg, which in turn was switched for a different real egg a few days before it was due to hatch.

Burnett said the egg taken from the nest to the zoo has hatched and that chick is being raised by its grandparents in captivity, and will be released from the Wildlife Society pen next spring.

Another chick is being raised in a condor nest in a redwood tree in Big Sur, Burnett said. That bird is about a month younger than Centennia.

The California condor hovered on the brink of extinction when its numbers dwindled to 22 birds in 1982. In 1987, the remaining seven wild condors were captured for captive breeding programs at the Los Angeles and San Diego zoos.

The birds raised in captivity have gradually been released back into the wild in Arizona, Southern California, the Big Sur coast and Pinnacles National Monument. There are nearly 300 condors, including 28 at Big Sur and 13 at Pinnacles.

Scientists have been able to follow the flight paths of condors through the radio transponders attached to them before they are released.

Condors are a fully protected species under state law and the state and federal governments list it as an endangered species.