Nine adult California Condors are feared dead, about a month after a wildfire ripped through the Big Sur Condor Sanctuary in central California. The birds have not been detected since the fire, and after the passage of several weeks, condor experts said their hope was diminishing. In addition, two wild-hatched nestlings died in the fire, and a third, despite surviving the fire, showed signs recently that it wasn’t doing well.
The bird, named “Iniko,” which was still in its nest in a redwood tree, did not beg for food from its mother when field biologists were watching. This is troubling, according to the Ventana Wildlife Society, because condor parents are triggered to feed their chicks by the chick’s begging. Further, “Iniko” was low in energy. Its mother, known as “Redwood Queen,” has been around the nest tree.
The biologists considered attempting to rescue “Iniko,” but the redwood was badly burned in the fire. “Climbing experts strongly caution against ascending this tree in its compromised condition,” VNS reported. “So as difficult as this is, we cannot proceed with a rescue attempt and put human life at risk. We are comforted that ‘Redwood Queen’ is still trying to care for ‘Iniko’ and that ‘Iniko’ still has a chance of survival.”
Two other chicks hatched this year survived the fire. One was presumed to be doing well because its mother was repeatedly visiting the nest, based on information from her GPS transmitter. The other chick had to be rescued before fire reached its nest in Pinnacles National Park; the bird is in the care of the LA Zoo until it is old enough to be released.
Fire is an unusual cause of condor deaths. Federal biologists have tracked condor mortality for nearly 30 years. Through 2019, the cause of death is known for 185 birds; seven of them died by fire.
The wild condor population in central California numbered 101 birds in 2019, so the potential loss of nine adults is significant. Just as significant was that the fire destroyed the Ventana Wildlife Society’s 80-acre Big Sur Condor Sanctuary near the central California coast.
Captive-raised condors have been released into the wild from the sanctuary since 1997. No condors or people were at the facility at the time of the fire. The society plans to rebuild the sanctuary and is looking for $500,000 in donations for the effort.