Environment & Science

Baby condor breaks Pinnacles National Park's 100-year nesting drought

Condor chick No. 828 in her nest at 60 days of age.
Condor chick No. 828 in her nest at 60 days of age.
Gavin Emmons

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For the first time in a century, a California condor chick in the wild has hatched and left the nest at Pinnacles National Park.

The last time that happened, Mount Lassen was erupting and spewing lava, and Kaiser Wilhelm was about to start World War I.

“We know, based on historical records, California condors nested here in the park in the past,” said Rachel Wolstenholme, who manages the condor program at Pinnacles. “Having 100 years go by without California condors nesting here in the park successfully really shows the struggle it’s been toward these birds’ recovery.”

Three decades ago, there were only 27 California condors left in the world. Now there are roughly 250 of them.

Besides the usual suspects of habitat destruction and pollution, condors died off so rapidly because of lead. They’re foragers, feeding on carrion, and when hunters use lead bullets, that poisons the birds.

It’s hard to regulate lead over the condors’ feeding area, since they can range over 160 miles a day in search of food.

California banned lead bullets last year, but there’s a lot of that ammunition still in circulation – so some of the big heroes here, Wolstenholme says, are the hunters who have used non-lead ammo over many years.

“Being able to reach this next milestone really shows we have a success to appreciate and enjoy, as they slowly recover,” Wolstenholme said.

There have been California condors who have hatched in the wild, including four of them last year, in the Ventana Wilderness south of Monterey. Since the condors fly back and forth between Ventana and Pinnacles 60 miles away, it’s a big step to have live births at both sites, Wolstenholme said.