California Condors Visit Stanislaus County

On August 27 and August 28, 2017, two California Condors, (Icarus #706 and Orville #716) fitted with GPS transmitters flew 150 miles north from their home in Pinnacles National Park, up the Coast Range mountains and over Western Stanislaus County.

Jean Beaufort Creative Commons License

Historical Populations and Distribution of California Condors

In the late 1800s, California Condors ranged over the entire Western US and into Southwest Canada. In particular, the central valley of California was a significant breeding ground for the condor population.

20th Century Dramatic Decline

The species experienced a dramatic decline in population during the 20th century, primarily due to habitat loss, hunting, and ingestion of lead ammunition. The condor population in the central valley declined rapidly, leading to the extinction of the species in the wild in the 1980s.

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Recovery Steps

In response to this crisis, a concerted effort was launched to save the California condor. The first step was to capture all remaining wild condors and bring them into a breeding program. The entire population of California condors was down to 22 in 1982, and none of them flew free in the wild. Since then, though, the California Condor Recovery Program (CCRP), overseen by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), has led the repopulation of condors through the successful collaboration among dozens of organizations, including zoos, NGOs, international partners, and local, state, and federal agencies.

In the Central Coast area of California, three primary recovery and release facilities have been established at San Simeon, Big Sur and Pinnacles National Park. The condor population has gradually grown to 537, as of the last official count in December 2021. Of them, 334 are free-flying.

How big are California Condors?

With a wingspan of up to 109 inches, California condors are the largest wild birds in North America! They generally weigh between 16 to 25 pounds.
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Cautious Optimism for the Future

Today, the California condor remains one of the most endangered species in the world. Nevertheless, conservation efforts continue, and there is hope that the California condor can be saved from extinction in the long term. The California Condor Recovery Program (CCRP) has been successful in producing a significant increase in the condor population, including in the central valley of California. In fact, recent GPS records of California Condors show a significant dispersal northward along the Coast Range and over the Central Valley foothills.

And Now, the Rest of the Story…

Icarus and Orville, both four years old, were released in San Simeon California in 2015 by the Ventana wildlife society. From San Simeon they eventually joined the flock at Pinnacles National Park. On August 27, 2017, the pair of inquisitive condors left their home at Pinnacles National Park and took a 220 mile, two-day roadtrip up the Coast Range passing through San Benito County, into Santa Clara County and over over Henry Coe State Park in Western Stanislaus County. They spent the night in Eastern Alameda County before making the return trip back to Pinnacles State Park on 8/29/2017.

One Good Roadtrip Leads to More

September of 2021, condor 828 took an even longer roadtrip and flew to the edge of Mt. Diablo. Both visits to the Bay Area likely included other condors that weren’t fitted with GPS tracking, since condors often travel in groups, says Ventana Wildlife Society head condor biologist Joe Burnett.

Next time you see a large raptor in the sky, you might want to double-check because it just could be a California Condor!

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