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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
HOPPER MOUNTAIN NWR: Condor Chick Found Dead After Ranch Fire Sweeps Through Refuge
Region 8, November 9, 2007

By Michaela Koenig, Wildlife Biologist, Hopper Mountain NWRC

A female California condor chick that was believed to have remained near its nest site as a wildfire burned over much of Hopper Mountain NWR in October was found dead on the refuge by Fish and Wildlife Service staff November 6.  The chick, Condor 443 (also known as WC15) was one of three condor chicks that were unable to leave their nest areas as the Ranch Fire swept over the southern California refuge October 21-22, 2007.  


The Ranch Fire started the evening of October 20 near Interstate 5, just east of Townsend peak in the Angeles National Forest.  Fed by strong Santa Ana winds, the fire crossed into Los Padres National Wilderness and spread to Lake Piru and up Dominquez Canyon bordering the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, growing from 500 acres to 43,000 acres in a matter of hours. From Hopper National Wildlife Refuge, one could see flames across Hopper Canyon. Gusts up to 90 miles per hour blew smoke skyward, blocking the sun and filling the adjacent canyons with smoke.  By 3 p.m. Oct. 21, Service personnel were instructed to evacuate the refuge. 


On the night of Oct. 22, the fire burned through most of the refuge and adjacent lands, including three of four canyons that contain California condor nests.  The Hopper Ranch house survived the flames, but more that 58,000 acres were consumed by the fire.  


Condor biologists fit wild chicks with a patagial VHF transmitter and numeric tag at 120 days of age.  Although we had determined that all of our free flying condor adults and juveniles were accounted for we had still yet to confirm that all our nestlings had survived.  By October 30, 2007, three of the four wild chicks were confirmed alive and well, but a mortality signal was transmitted for Condor 442, our Hopper Canyon chick.


It was not until Nov. 6, that we refuge staff were allowed to enter the canyon. With the aid of radio telemetry, the chick was found approximately 300 meters up canyon from her original nest site in an unburned hanging canyon about 15 meters above canyon floor.  The chick was face down in a pile of leaves and had not been scavenged on.  The chick was collected and sent to the Los Angeles Zoo for necropsy.


Condor 443, the biological chick of Female 161 and Male 107, was hatched May 4, 2007 in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and fledged September 23.  After leaving her nest, she adopted a new cave lower down in the canyon where she experienced close encounters with a variety of predators, including a bear and a bobcat.  Still, she was able to develop and continue to be cared for by both parents.  She had been taking short horizontal and upward flights with her parents in the general area of her new nest cave. Condor 443 was last seen alive Oct. 19.

Her death may be indirectly related from the Ranch Fire. Initial necropsy reports are inconclusive.


This year's successful fledging of five out of six wild condor nest sites in California is major step forward in the species recovery. More information about Hopper Mountain NWR and its role in the Condor Recovery Program is available on the Web at: http://www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/




Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov