What does a California Condor nestling do when its home base is threatened by fire? For one young bird, the fire may have been the motivation to fledge.
The Thomas Fire, the largest of several wildfires that raged through Southern California last December and January, burned approximately 440 square miles and more than 1,000 structures as it ran from the coastal towns of Santa Barbara and Ventura deep into the rocky hills of Los Padres National Forest. Los Padres is home to the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, site of a boulder-strewn pass known as Devils Gate—and an online Bird Cam hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has provided thousands of web viewers with a window into a wild California Condor nest.
In mid-December, the Thomas fire was creeping ever closer to the nest at Devils Gate, where this year’s chick, #871, was close to fledging. But due to issues with weather and the solar-powered equipment at the remote nest site, the camera was offline. Biologists Nadya Seal Faith and Joseph Brandt of the Condor Recovery Team had been checking in on the condor chick at the nest, but they had to suspend their monitoring forays because of the impending inferno. Luckily, both #871 and her parents were fitted with transmitters that gave the researchers some clues about the family’s whereabouts, and the signs were encouraging.