A wonderful experience awaits bird lovers. Two juvenile California condors will be released at Pinnacles National Monument in Monterey County at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 1. The public can witness the first free flight of these birds from a viewing area located approximately three-quarters of a mile from the release site. Even if you’ve seen a condor in flight, seeing a juvenile bird spread its wings and use thermals to maneuver its new surroundings for the first time is an unforgettable moment. And at moments a bit comedic!
These condors were hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey, two of the four California Condor Recovery Program’s breeding centers. The San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park and Oregon Zoo make up the other two breeding sites.
The release will take place on the east side of Pinnacles National Monument off of Highway 25. Shuttle services from designated parking areas will transport guests to within 1.5 miles of the viewing area. The National Park Service suggests bringing spotting scopes, binoculars, water, layered clothing, and good hiking shoes, and carpooling is recommended, as parking is limited. Arrival between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. is advisable in order to reach the viewing area before 10 a.m. Entrance fees for the day have been waived for the release.
The newly released condors will join 15 other wild California condors already living in the national park. Today, there are approximately 160 condors flying free in California, Arizona, and Baja California, Mexico. The birds will be “soft released” through a double-door trap, but because condors have been known to sit still despite seeing the doors open, there is a chance that no birds will enter the trap and fly out on the day of the release.
On one such occasion at the Baja California release site, I waited with condor biologists for hours before the first bird finally exited through the trap doors. Once he was out he seemed a bit clumsy in the air with long, hard flaps of his wings. He was followed shortly thereafter by a second and third bird both of which seemed to land with a thump on a pine tree. The fourth and final bird seemed destined to remain indoors until the sight of other flying condors seemed to finally coax it out of its slumber. It was a long day of waiting so please have patience. This is, after all, like leaving for college for the first time, and by the looks of it, like taking their training wheels off. Happy condor watching!