Two Baby Condors At Pinnacles National Park Are Healthy, ‘Adorable Fluffballs’

The nestlings provide some good news for California condors, which faced a major setback from bird flu earlier this year

Side-by-side of California condor chicks
The chicks were both born in early May and should take their first flights later this year. NPS / Rose Fielding / Gavin Emmons

After examining two baby California condors growing up in Pinnacles National Park, biologists are cautiously optimistic about the young birds’ survival prospects.

The critically endangered nestlings passed their first health checkup with flying colors, the park in Central California announced late last month. The “solo youngers” are in different nests and are being raised by different sets of parents, per park officials.

Both of the “adorable fluffballs”—called No. 1215 and No. 1238—were born in early May, per the park. No. 1215 is a female, while the sex of No. 1238 remains unknown.

“We’re happy to report everything is looking great,” according to the announcement.

Notably, the recent checkup showed both nestlings have “very low” levels of lead in their blood. The metal is a leading cause of death among condors, which, as scavengers, can accidentally ingest lead bullet fragments while chowing down on carrion. With nestlings, the fear is that parents will bring contaminated meat back to the nest and feed it to them. But fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case with these two birds so far.

If they continue on their current trajectory, the nestlings will take their first flights when they’re roughly six months old, likely in October or November.

Visitors “may be lucky enough to see the two newest members of the condor flock soaring through the park this winter,” per the announcement from Pinnacles.

The baby condors are tucked away safely in nests located on high cliffs, which park staffers located by tracking the parents via radio transmitters and GPS data.

Biologists used rock climbing gear to ascend the cliffs and reach the two nestlings. To examine one baby bird, park staffers had to carefully wedge themselves between boulders outside the nest; for the other, they had to lower the nestling down to the ground, examine it, then put it back, reports Tara Duggan for the San Francisco Chronicle.

To help keep the young condors calm while they drew blood and checked out their ears, eyes and mouths, park staffers put a small sock with the toes cut off over each bird’s head. Fortunately, the parents of both nestlings allowed the staffers to handle the babies without issue.

The birds’ clean bill of health is especially good news after this spring, when at least 20 California condors died from the highly contagious avian flu in Arizona and Utah. Fortunately, the bird flu does not appear to be affecting the population that lives in Central California, which comprises roughly 90 adult birds, per the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition, veterinarians have started vaccinating some California condors against the virus.

California condors are critically endangered, with just 347 surviving in the wild and 214 living in captivity as of December 2022, the latest numbers. While those totals may seem small, they’re a vast improvement from the 1980s, when California condors nearly went extinct because of lead poisoning, poaching and habitat loss. In the decades since, biologists and wildlife specialists have banded together to help the population rebound. And so far, they’ve achieved great success, especially considering the birds’ very slow reproductive cycles. The condors don’t reach reproductive maturity until they’re six years old—and even then, they lay only one egg at a time and do not breed every year.

Biologists reintroduced California condors to Pinnacles National Park in 2003. The birds took a little while to get comfortable in their new surroundings and did not begin nesting until 2009.

Pinnacles keeps tabs on all of the condors within its bounds and even has individual profiles of the birds online, as well as a memorial page for the condors that have died.

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