Recently, National Park Service staff and volunteers tracked six condors that soared through the skies above Round Valley and Morgan Territory Regional Preserves, one even flying a mile or two west of Mount Diablo’s summit.
“This is amazing news,” said Seth Adams, Save Mount Diablo’s Land Conservation Director. “This is the first flock of California condors to visit Contra Costa in 100 years, and the first record of one flying west of Diablo’s peaks … I’ve been hoping the birds would reclaim Mount Diablo. What it really highlights is the importance of the giant Diablo Range as habitat for the birds —200 miles north-south.”
Over the years, condors have been exploring the northern Diablo Range, lengthening their flights northward as they fly closer and closer to Mount Diablo.
In 2021, a California condor flew into Contra Costa County for the first time in over 100 years, taking an exploratory flight into new territory in the Round Valley–Morgan Territory area.
Last year, another condor was tracked soaring over Brushy Peak Regional Preserve in June, making it the second known California condor in the Mount Diablo area in more than 100 years.
Radio tags or GPS transmitters are placed on all condors because there are so few, and each one is important to the overall population.
Of the six condors that flew up near Mount Diablo, three have been treated for lead poisoning and one was seen with a beer can stuck over his lower beak which made it impossible for him to eat. The biologists at Pinnacles National Park were able to remove the can.
According to wildlife biologist Joseph Belli, who volunteers for the California condor recovery program at Pinnacles, this is an exciting year for California condors because there are more birds overall. Most of them are young and not of breeding age. Though condors have been flying north from Pinnacles since 2004, the last few years have seen a significant uptick in their usage of the northern Diablo Range.
These flights could be the first step towards the condors expanding their range further north, though it might be years before condors nest in Contra Costa County.
Condors require cavities for nesting, so they look for cliffs, large rocky areas, or mature redwood trees with large hollows. They also require good foraging habitat (relatively undeveloped areas, including rangelands) and water to thrive.
In the 1980s, California condors were nearly extinct. Their population was down to 22 individuals. The biggest threat to them has been lead poisoning in their food. Condors are scavengers and may accidentally ingest lead bullets in carrion.
California condors have had a near-miraculous recovery over the past 30 years, having been brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to recovery programs that began releasing condors back into the wild in the 1990s.
In 2019, new state regulations took effect in California that make it illegal to use lead ammunition when hunting wildlife throughout the state.
Though California condors are still critically endangered, there are now hundreds living in the wild, and biologists continue to document how they use their range through GPS transmitters or radio tags.
One day, visitors to Mount Diablo might be able to look up and spot California condors soaring overhead.
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