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Up up and away! Zoo-reared condors take flight in California

Jan. 30, 2024, 9:51 a.m.
Topic: Conservation and species recovery
A zoo-reared condor perches near the exit of a release pen

Seven condors hatched at zoo's offsite facility are flying free in San Simeon

 

Seven California condors hatched and raised at the Oregon Zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation went soaring through the open skies of California last month, marking another important step in the effort to save this critically endangered species from extinction. 

The young birds — who hatched at the Jonsson Center in spring 2022 — lifted off from a release site at San Simeon on California’s Central Coast, joining a growing population of free-flying condors living among the area’s redwood forests and rocky shores.

“The condors released last month are doing great so far,” said Joe Burnett, condor program manager at the Ventana Wildlife Society, which operates the condor release site. “They’re roosting in good spots and getting plenty to eat.”

All the wild releases at San Simeon are “soft releases,” meaning the birds exit the flight pens on their own time. When a condor enters the outer holding area of its pen, the inner door closes and triggers the outer door to open, allowing the bird to fly free.

“It’s so wonderful to see them take flight,” said Kelli Walker, the zoo’s senior condor keeper. “We’ve had a lot of success with Oregon Zoo condors pairing off with their wild counterparts to hatch the next generation of free-flying birds.”

The California condor was one of the original animals included on the 1973 Endangered Species Act and is classified as critically endangered. In 1982, only 22 individuals remained in the wild and by 1987, the last condors were brought into human care in an attempt to save the species from extinction. Thanks to recovery programs like the Oregon Zoo’s, the world’s California condor population now totals around 500 birds, most of which are flying free.

The Oregon Zoo’s condor recovery efforts take place at the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, located in rural Clackamas County on Metro-owned open land. The remoteness of the facility minimizes the exposure of young condors to people, increasing the chances for captive-hatched birds to survive and breed in the wild.

Upgrades and new equipment at the center have been made possible through continued support from the Avangrid Foundation and donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation, which supports the zoo’s efforts in advancing animal well-being, species recovery work and conservation education. To contribute, go to oregonzoo.org/give

More than 108 chicks have hatched at the Jonsson Center since 2003, and more than 73 Oregon Zoo-reared birds have gone out to field pens for release. Several eggs laid by Oregon Zoo condors have been placed in wild nests to hatch.

California condor breeding programs are also operated at San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Idaho. For more information, visit oregonzoo.org/condors. For livestreams of condor releases at San Simeon, visit youtube.com/@VWScondors.