With the opening of California Trails on Earth Day 2009, the Santa Barbara Zoo became one of a handful of zoos to exhibit these highly endangered scavengers – the largest land birds in North America, with wingspans topping 9½ feet.
A Female Flock
The Santa Barbara Zoo’s condors are still part of the recovery program and wear wing
tags that identify them as individuals. The lower the number, the older the bird.
- Was born in captivity and spent two years in the wild in Arizona
- Became used to humans because when she was a young bird, campers repeatedly fed her
- Was removed from the wild because despite being relocated, she did not change her behavior
- Arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in January 2010 as a mentor for the younger condors
- Arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in October 2012
- Immediately became the dominant bird as oldest member of the flock
- Raised three chicks while in the captive breeding program at Oregon Zoo
- Her three offspring were all released in central California and are flying free today
- Hatched in April 2011 in the wild in Big Sur, but removed from the wild when she needed treatment for lead poisoning and trash ingestion as a two-month-old chick
- While being treated at Los Angeles Zoo, staff noticed she could not fully extend her left wing, making it too risky to release her into the wild
- Sports a black head, which marks her as a juvenile
- Spends a lot of time on the ground, unlike the adults
- Hatched in May 2009 at Peregrine Fund facility in Boise, Idaho
- Arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo in January 2012
- Has gradually lost the solid black coloration on her face and neck, and now has the orange-pink-black shading of an adult condor
Wing Tags Decoded
Wing tags allow us to tell the birds apart, but also embodies this essential point: with California condors still critically endangered, each bird is vital to conservation.
Starting with first wild birds studied in the 1980s, each condor hatched is given a sequential number which now appears on their wing tags. Condors in the wild also have VHF transmitters sewn into their tags.
Tags have two numbers large enough to be read with binoculars from across a canyon or in the sky, and to tell them apart here at the Zoo. The colors denote hundreds (see chart below).
The Zoo’s oldest bird, 174, hatched in 2008 – her tag is red (100s) with “74.” Condor 603, hatched more recently in 2011, has a purple tag (denoting 600s) with “3.”
Researchers may need another color soon, as the consecutive numbers could top 800. That’s good news for condor conservation!
Note: These ID numbers don’t total the birds alive today – they represent every bird, alive or deceased, since California condor studies began.
Wing Tag Colors for the Southern California Condor Flock
Condor Nest WatchThe Santa Barbara Zoo helps monitor wild condors nesting near Hopper Mountain and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuges, located in Ventura and Kern counties, respectively. Volunteers and staff from the Zoo and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service observe condor nests as part of a long-term study to see if there are differences in parenting styles of wild-reared condors versus captive-reared condors, among other factors.
In 1982, the world’s population of California condors dropped to just 22 individuals. By 1987, the few remaining wild condors had been captured for a captive breeding program. Today, there are more than 400 condors in the world, with more than half flying free in the wild. But there is still work to be done: the IUCN lists them as “Critically Endangered.”
Don’t Feed Wildlife!
Some animals are naturally curious, like California condors. But it is not a good idea to feed wildlife. While young and impressionable, condor 327 was fed by humans in the wild, and then associated people with food. That is a potentially harmful behavior, for humans, condor 327, and the rest of the condor flock. It’s the same with raccoons, deer, and other wildlife you might encounter. Help keep wild animals wild…don’t feed wildlife.