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Thursday, Jul 05 2012 07:22 AM

Condor sightings in Tehachapi area expected to become more common

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Emily and Elizabeth Walter of Tehachapi shared their photos of a group of nine California Condors taking a break on a rooftop in Bear Valley Springs on Saturday, June 30. An even larger group, 30 birds, including some of the same birds, were observed on top of a home higher up in Bear Valley the next day.

Emily and Elizabeth Walter of Tehachapi shared their photos of a group of nine California Condors taking a break on a rooftop in Bear Valley Springs on Saturday, June 30. An even larger group, 30 birds, including some of the same birds, were observed on top of a home higher up in Bear Valley the next day.

Emily and Elizabeth Walter of Tehachapi shared their photos of a group of nine California Condors taking a break on a rooftop in Bear Valley Springs on Saturday, June 30. An even larger group, 30 birds, including some of the same birds, were observed on top of a home higher up in Bear Valley the next day.

There are believed to be only 125 California Condors in the state — of 386 worldwide according to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. And only 213 of the total are in the wild.

At least nine of the rare birds were seen perched atop a hillside home in Bear Valley Springs on Saturday morning, as shown in these photos taken by BVS residents Emily and Elizabeth Walter.
And although it is not unusual for condors to gather in such groups, it is unusual for the gather on rooftops according to Joseph Brandt of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

And since then a Tehachapi News reader reported seeing 30 of the birds — including some of the same birds — on another house in Bear Valley Springs.

“We’re not too excited about that,” Brandt said, noting that the rare birds have a better chance of surviving if they stay away from people.

He said they should be thought of like bears in that people who live in areas near wildlands should not do anything to entice them to stay.

They can cause damage, but the biggest risk is that they will ingest something they should not, leading to illness or death, he said.

Under no circumstances should people leave food out for condors, he said.

Elizabeth and Emily Walter were excited to see the birds and have not seen them before. They counted at least nine condors and there may have been more. It is unknown at this time how long they stayed in the area — or whose house they were perched atop. The Walters said they do not know the occupants of the home.

Although not all of the condors photographed appeared to have wing tags, Brand said he believes they are all tagged. Birds also wear telemetry that allows researchers to track their movement.
Sometimes, he said, tags are not easily visible.

At least two of the birds photographed had tags with numbers that could easily be discerned — numbers 28 and 52.

Brandt said that the tags are color-coded in addition to being numbered. The black letters on white background indicated that these birds hatched in 2007.

Number 28, a female, is from a wild nest in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary on Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County, he said.

Number 52, a male, was hatched in captivity on the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Sanctuary near Maricopa in Kern County and was released into the wild in 2009.

These two condors, at five years of age, are beginning to exhibit the red head and adult plumage of mature condors while a number of the birds on the rooftop had grey heads indicative of birds younger than five years old, Brandt said.

He said the condors in California generally are part of either a group that lives primarily in the Monterey County area or the Southern California group ranges throughout Ventura and Kern County.

The Tehachapi Mountains are part of the giant bird’s traditional range and as the breeding program is more successful, Brandt said he believes that sightings in the Tehachapi area will become more common.

“There is good habitat for them there,” he said, noting that they are also starting to range into the Southern Sierra to the north, also part of their original habitat.

As there are more birds in the wild, they will spread out more, covering more territory, he said.
Condors are scavengers, and not stupid birds, he said. They’re curious and gregarious, and when they are sighted it is not unusual to see them in groups.

“They can get themselves into trouble,” he said.

In the case of the second house where 30 birds were seen, the birds were observed pecking at windows.

Tehachapi resident Jon Hammond, who frequently writes about local flora and fauna, said there have been other sightings of multiple condors on people’s rooftops locally.

“Here's the issue though,” he wrote in an email. “Homeowners are excited about having them around or landing on their roof, and the first thing want to do is ‘let some wildlife officials know.’ Well, a number of the birds have small radio telemetry transmitters on them, so biologists associated with the Condor Recovery Program already have a good idea of where the birds are — since they've had so many problems with lead ingestion, the program has been catching every single bird once every year to take a blood sample to check for lead levels. So it really isn't valuable information to the state to know exactly where some birds may be hanging out.

“However,” Hammond continued, “when they learn that they've been around houses, they send out some young biologists to ‘haze the birds’ by throwing pine cones at them and generally harassing them to frighten them away, because frequenting human habitation is considered unnatural behavior, and written in the Condor Recovery Plan is the stated intention to establish a wild population of condors that behaves likes that the last remaining ones that were captured in the late 1980s — after a century of harassment, egg collecting and shooting.

“So,” Hammond said, “the current birds are not as fearful as the nucleus population that produced them, and biologists are trying to make them that way. I don't agree at all — people and condors are not natural enemies or competitors, condors pose zero threat to humans, so why try to make them so fearful? Bears rummaging through the trash is one thing, that can be hazardous, but condors on a roof?

“Brown Pelicans were endangered, have since recovered, and I see them on California piers while people photograph them from six feet away, and is it positive interaction between people and wildlife.
  “So my advice to the people in Bear Valley would be to remain quiet, enjoy the unforgettable size and majesty of the condors, and not publicize their exact location, or they will be visited by condor biologists who will chase the birds away. I've seen it happen before in Stallion Springs in two different locations, and the condors never came back to those roofs to relax and sun themselves.”

More information about condors is  available online at www.fws.gov/hoppermountain.com.

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