Betty the Condor, 2 months old-NPS Photo by G. Emmons
An endangered female California condor chick took flight from a nest in early October 2016 in Pinnacles National Park in Monterey County, for the first time in more than 100 years. Earth-shattering news? Not to most people. Important beyond our scope of understanding? Oh hell yes. The “historic flight,” as the Pinnacles NationalPark people put it, was under the supervision of her parents, both of whom were released into the wild through a partnership between the National Park Service and Ventana Wildlife Society. The chick, a hot little number in that prehistoric beauty vibe, is unceremoniously known merely as Condor #828. Let’s call her Betty.
Volunteers and staff have been observing the nest, found in a remote location in the park, since Betty’s parents started incubating the egg in February. The five-and-a-half month old chick piqued the attention of park biologists when she left the nest one month earlier than expected. “Condors nesting in the wild and surviving on their own is what it’s all about and this is yet another milestone towards that goal,” says Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which first initiated condor releases in central California back in 1997. The federal government and conservation groups have dedicated considerable resources to the restoration of the condor population that was brought to the brink of extinction in the 1980’s.
Condor #340 (dad) in the nest with Betty-NPS Photo by G. Emmons
“The young condor’s flight from the nest gives us a strong sense of hope,” said Karen Beppler-Dorn, superintendent of Pinnacles National Park. “However, our hope is tempered by the challenges that still exist for her and all wild condors.” What “challenges” might there be? Lead poisoning continues to hinder recovery of these magnificent birds and they can become ill and die when they inadvertently ingest fragments of lead ammunition in carcasses they feed upon that are left over from hunting or ranching operations. “Condors and other scavenging wildlife, such as eagles, benefit from carcass remains left behind, if non-lead ammunition is used. Hunters and ranchers have a long-standing tradition of wildlife conservation,” said Beppler-Dorn. “Shooters who have switched to non-lead ammunition have made an invaluable contribution to the health of all scavenging wildlife.” Of course loss of habitat due to human expansion is always an issue as is pollution, be that water, air and even noise pollution.
With continuing threats to condor’s survival and recovery, volunteers contribute immeasurably towards the protection of wildlife in the park, particularly the condors. Female condor #236 (Betty’s mom) was first released from Big Sur and male condor #340 (Betty’s dad) was released from Pinnacles. Now that Betty, has left the nest, she will remain close to her parents as she learns where to go to forage for food and how to interact with over 85 other condors in central California. These may seem like small victories, but every instance where we as humans give respect to the natural world only makes our physical world, and yes our spiritual world, that much better.