California condor chick takes flight in Santa Barbara County — a first in over 30 years

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A California condor chick took flight from a “cliff-side nest” in Los Padres National Forest last month — the first time a condor chick has successfully fledged in Santa Barbara County in more than 30 years, according to a news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The chick, known as condor number 33, hatched in late April and is the first second-generation wild condor fledgling in Southern California, the agency said. Its father, 38-year-old AC-4, hatched in Santa Barbara County in 1980.

AC-4 was captured in the 1980s to help create a captive condor breeding program and fathered 30 chicks in captivity that were later released into the wild, the agency said.

AC-4 was released back into the wild in 2015, and condor number 33 is his first offspring to successfully fly from its nest in the wild, the agency said.

Biologists with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Santa Barbara Zoo will monitor the chick’s nest for the next month and plan to give the chick a tag and GPS transmitter within the following year, according to the release.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife said 2018 was a “record-breaking nesting season” for California condors in Southern California. Twelve nests were recorded in the area this year, which is the “highest number of nests across the broadest range ever documented in the area,” the agency said.

“This record-breaking nesting season signals continued progress in the recovery of the California condor,” Joseph Brandt, supervisory wildlife biologist with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “We are seeing more condors and more nests in more places in Southern California than ever before.”

On Nov. 13, two juvenile condors were released in the mountains above San Simeon, according to the Ventana Wildlife Society. Four more juveniles are expected to be released there possibly as early as Christmas, bringing the total number of recently released juveniles soaring the Central Coast to 19.

The California condor range includes the mountains of Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Benito, Los Angeles and Kern counties, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Condors have also more recently been found in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Tulare and Fresno counties, according to the release.

California condors have been designated as endangered since their numbers took a steep decline in the mid-20th century — in 1982, just 22 condors were left in the wild, according to the release.

Today, the population is about 470 worldwide, with more than half of those “flying free,” the agency said.

The greatest threat to condors is lead poisoning, which happens when they feed on carcasses that contain lead bullet fragments. Another threat is “micro trash,” small, coin-sized items like copper wire, bottle caps and glass, which condor parents collect and then feed to their chick, which can cause serious problems with the chick’s development.

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