Condor Cams in Big Sur
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Welcome to Condor Cam! For your best chance of seeing condors on the cams, check in periodically. The central California population is growing due to ongoing releases, wild nesting and the care we provide them. But these are wild birds that fly in and out as they please; you might see a dozen or more at once, or you might not see any. You might even see them feeding on carcasses provided by biologists to ensure a clean non-lead-contaminated food source as the population recovers. In some years, we offer a nest cam, so you can watch a nestling from the time it hatches up until it fledges. Because the cameras are solar-powered, operating hours are reduced in winter.
Condor Nest Cam - Castle Nest
Condor Sanctuary/Feed Cam - Temporarily Offline
Condor Cam Slide Show
Want to learn more? frequently asked questions
HOW DO THE CAMERAS HELP CONDORS?
Ventana Wildlife Society's biologists use these cameras as a field management tool to monitor the survival and health of wild condors. Throughout the day, we remotely move the camera view to areas of greatest activity and identify as many condors as we can. Data we record using the camera can be used for survival analyses that will help determine self-sustainability of the population. Also, the camera allows us to keep track of each individual more often than we could otherwise, and with less disturbance. By observing their natural behavior, we can identify early signs of an injury or illness, should they occur. This information helps us provide prompt treatment when needed.
WHERE ARE THE CAMERAS LOCATED?
The cameras are located at Ventana Wildlife Society's privately-owned Condor Sanctuary in Big Sur, California, approximately two miles east of the Pacific Ocean (as the condor flies) and at 2,800 feet in elevation. The Sanctuary is surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land. We will sometimes feature a Nest Cam, which will be located at one of the active, wild condor nests. In that case, the camera location depends on where the condors choose to nest.
WHY ARE THE CONDORS WEARING WING TAGS?
All condors are tagged with color/number wing-mounted tags for identification in the field (see http://www.condorspotter.com). Condors are also fitted with wing-mounted radio and/or GPS transmitters, which biologists use to track movements in the wild. The tags and transmitters are essential tools to aid our team in making decisions about how best to recover the condor. By studying condor movement patterns, we can identify new places where they feed, roost, and nest. By learning where they feed, for example, we can identify sites where they might be exposed to lead (and where non-lead ammunition outreach efforts should focus). We consider the use of these tags to be temporary; we envision a future self-sustaining condor population that will not require tags.
HOW DO YOU TELL IF A CONDOR IS A JUVENILE/ADULT OR MALE/FEMALE?
Juvenile and adult condors are easily distinguished by head color. Juveniles have dark heads, whereas adults have bright orange or pink heads. It is much more difficult to distinguish males from females, because the sexes are nearly identical in coloration and overall appearance. Males tend to be slightly larger than females, but there is some individual variability in size, and size is not usually reliable for distinguishing males and females on the camera. To be sure, we send a blood or feather sample to the lab for testing to determine gender. For more information about individual condors, visit My Condor.
WHAT ARE THE CONDORS EATING AND WHY ARE THEY BEING FED?
These are carcasses placed by biologists as a supplemental food source. These condors are wild and have demonstrated that they are fully capable of scavenging on their own, whether it be carcasses of deer, pigs, ground squirrels, sea lions, or even whales. However, they are still vulnerable to lead exposure if they feed on a contaminated carcass. The carcasses we provide are stillborn domestic calves provided by regional dairies, and they are used to ensure that the condors have access to clean, uncontaminated carcasses. These carcasses are especially beneficial for newly released birds adjusting to life in the wild. As often as once per week, our biologists place the carcasses under the cover of darkness, so that condors will not learn to associate humans with this food source. The fence enclosure that you sometimes see on the camera is there to prevent four-legged scavengers, like coyotes and wild pigs, from feeding on the carcasses.
WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE VISIBLE IN THE CAM?
The structure that is often visible in the background is the release pen. The release pen is used as a holding pen for releasing captive-bred condors. It is also used at least once per year for recapturing wild condors for lead testing and transmitter replacements. The metal-roofed section on the left side of the release pen is an observation blind. When using the pen, biologists enter the blind pre-dawn and exit after dusk to avoid detection by the condors. Once inside, they can observe condors through one-way mirrored windows and operate the pen doors as needed to recapture or release condors.
Condors often congregate at the rock pool, where they find water provided by a natural spring. Here, you can watch them bathe, drink, or just bask in the sun with wings spread open (sunning). Condors often exhibit playful behaviors when bathing, so be sure to stay tuned to see one of their regular condor "pool parties"!
TELL ME ABOUT THE CHICK AND THE PARENTS.
This chick is being raised by two of the oldest condors in Big Sur, both recently reaching their 20th birthday. The male is Condor #167, aka "Kingpin", and is the most dominant condor in the flock. His mate is #190, aka "Redwood Queen", because she was the first to be documented nesting in a coast redwood tree. The chick has been provided a studbook number of 914, but many of the viewers know the youngster better by the name of Pasquale. Pasquale is derived from a French word related to Easter, and was suggested by two young viewers, who noted that the egg hatched right around Easter. In 2015, the Nest Cam featured this same pair and same nest. Condor #799 fledged from the nest that year, and was named Princess, by viewer vote. While the parents raise Pasquale, Princess is still alive and well, independent but still several years away from reaching breeding age herself.
HOW OFTEN IS THE CHICK FED?
It depends on the age of the chick. For the first few weeks, one of the parents will attend the chick constantly for protection, and will feed the chick multiple regurgitated meals each day. As the chick grows, they provide less frequent but larger meals. At that point, you might have to watch the cam for a while to catch a feeding visit by the parent. Condors might travel more than 150 miles to find food for their chicks, so there will be times when the chick is alone in the nest. But until the chick reaches full size, you can bet that at least one of the parents is nearby, even if not in the camera view.
WHAT DOES A CHICK FEEDING LOOK LIKE?
During feedings, also called "feeding bouts", the chick will flap its wings excitedly and then stick its beak into the open beak of the parent to receive a regurgitated meal. It will almost appear as if they are wrestling with their beaks, more like a "feeding bout".
HOW BIG IS THE CHICK?
After hatching, chicks weigh about 9 ounces and can fit in the palm of an adult human hand. When they fledge, at 5–7 months in age, they weigh approximately 17-22 pounds and are about the same size as the adults.
WHAT'S THE NEST LIKE? WHAT KIND OF TREE IS IT?
The tree is a coast redwood, and judging by the size of this one, it could be a thousand years old! At one point, a large cavity was formed, likely the result of a lighting strike and one or more subsequent fires burning it out. Accumulation of leaves and other material in the nest cavity creates the perfect nursery for a condor chick. The inside of the nest cavity is approximately 4-5 feet wide. The cavity entrance is south-facing and about 60 feet above ground less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, in Big Sur, California.
WHAT'S THE REPRODUCTIVE CYCLE FOR CONDORS AND HOW LONG WILL THE CHICK STAY IN THE NEST BEFORE FLEDGING?
Condor eggs are incubated almost constantly by both parents in alternating shifts for two months until hatching. Typically, condor eggs hatch in April and May, but hatching can occur earlier or later than that. Both parents care for the chick, which grows rapidly to adult size in just 5.5 to 6 months. At this age, condor chicks are ready to "fledge", or take flight for the first time away from the nest. The parents continue caring for the chick for up to seven more months. This time investment required for raising young is extraordinary in the bird world, and explains why condors are usually not able to nest every year.
WHAT IS THE ROPE AND PIPE DOING INSIDE THE NEST?
The thin rope left behind is used to secure a climbing rope upon future visits by condor biologists to care for the egg or chick in their various stages. The pipe contains the wiring necessary for this streaming camera to operate on the internet.
HOW WILL I KNOW SOMETHING EXCITING IS HAPPENING ON THE CAMS?
The more you watch, the more likely you will not miss something exciting. However, we will often post updates on our Facebook page and on our Twitter feed when exciting events are happening on the cams.