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Frequently Asked Questions

BCNWR Refuge Week Hike 2010

Where do I go to see a California condor?
There are currently 70 (number subject to change) free-flying adult and juvenile condors managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in southern California. They move frequently throughout their expanding territory, so they may not always be seen on or near the refuge. 
The southern California population of condors range from as far as the Sierra Mountains to the north, San Gabriel Mountains to the south, Tehachapi area to the east, and Santa Barbara back country to the west.
If you hope to see a condor near Bitter Creek NWR, the most likely viewing areas are various roadside pullouts along Hudson Ranch Road in Kern County. Condors are often observed soaring on morning thermals over Bitter Creek Canyon and coming into roost on the refuge in the evenings. Remember that condors are wild, which means that there is no guarantee you will see one on a given day or at a given time. Please remember to stay out of areas that are marked as Closed to the Public to protect condors and other wildlife. 
From Los Angeles:
Take Interstate 5 (I-5) north to Frazier Park. Take the Frazier Mountain Park Road exit and turn left onto Frazier Mountain Park Road. Continue onto Cuddy Valley Road and then make a slight right onto Mil Potrero Highway/Route 9N05. Continue onto Hudson Ranch Road and look for a large roadside pullout with a brown Los Padres National Forest Service Sign. The other large pullout is just north near the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Service sign. 
From Ventura or Santa Barbara:
From highway 101, take CA-33 north toward Ojai. Continue on CA-33 for approximately 70 miles. At the CA-166/CA-33 intersection, turn right to continue on CA-33 north toward Taft. Turn right onto Hudson Ranch Road and after approximately 8 miles look for a large roadside pullout and brown Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge sign on the east side of the road. Another potential viewing area is slightly further south on Hudson Ranch Road at the Los Padres National Forest Service sign.
How can I tell the difference between a California condor and a turkey vulture?
Condors and turkey vultures have a few key differences besides their size. If you see a bird in flight, look for the lighter area on the underside of the wings to help determine the species. Juvenile condors have mottled white feathers along the leading edge of their wings. Adult condors have bright white underwing feathers. Turkey vultures have a silvery area along the back edges of their wings. Because underwing markings cane be difficult to see, the way the condor holds its wings is often one of the best ways to identify it. In flight, condors tend to hold their wings flat and soar without any rocking back and forth. They do flap their wings, but not as often as other birds such as turkey vultures. Turkey vultures hold their wings in a slight "V" pattern, and will rock side to side in the wing. Their flight is often described as wobbly or unstable when compared to that of a condor.   
The heads of juvenile condors are gray until they reach the age of 4-6, when their heads turn a pinkish orange. Adults have bright orange pick heads. Juvenile turkey vultures also have gray heads whereas the adults have bright red heads. Turkey vultures heads also look small in comparison to their body size. 
Also look to see if the bird you see has a number tag on either wing. Condors will only have one wing tag but it can be on the right or left wing. The tag can be orange, red, yellow, blue, white, black, purple, or green with one or two digits. 
Should I report a condor sighting?
If you see a condor that is ill, injured, or engaging in potentially dangerous behavior such as feeding on a carcass possibly shot with lead ammunition or a carcass laying in the road, approaching people, drinking from deep water containers, or perching on artificial structures, please report the sighting immediately by calling 805-644-5185 ext. 284 or ext. 294. Please report the date and time of the observation, location and activity of the condor, and the numbers on wing tag if possible. Other helpful information: how many condors were present and the behavior of the other condors, whether other species of birds were present and engaging in the same behavior, whether the behavior was a first or has happened before, and how long the condor was present.
If you see condors that are not engaging in dangerous behavior, you are welcome to report those observations as well. Any condor sightings will help us keep track of their movements and activities. You can send an email to Joseph_Brandt@fws.gov or call 805-644-5185. 
If you see a condor on your property, remember that although they are large, they pose no threat to humans, pets, or livestock. If you've been visited by condors on your ranch or property, please remember that state law may require switching to lead-free ammunition within condor range, as lead poisoning is one of the biggest threats to California condors in the wild.
Please feel free to contact us with questions about California condors by sending an email or calling one of the phone numbers listed above.
Last Updated: Dec 30, 2013
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