Live Video: Hutton's Bowl California condor nest

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners have launched a livestreaming camera in a nest of endangered California condors near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.

Watch the Hutton's Bowl condor nest camera. This recently installed nest camera located near the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS

Welcome! You are watching the Hutton's Bowl condor webcam, featuring live video of California condors nesting in the wild.

This recently installed nest camera is located in Hutton's Bowl, near the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California, on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The nest camera will stream continuously throughout the year.

“Until now, only a handful of biologists had the privilege to observe wild condor nests. They had to trek into the remote backcountry and wait for days, sometimes weeks, at observation blinds located hundreds of feet from the nests to catch a glimpse of the birds,” says Dr. Estelle Sandhaus, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Director of Conservation and Research. “Today’s technology allows researchers like us to observe a number of nests with high precision – and in high definition. That enables more efficient nest management and research for us, and allows anyone with an internet connection to share in the excitement of scientific discovery.”

Nest cameras are tools that  allow the viewer to see through the eyes of the team trying to save endangered condors in the wild, but also allow you, the viewer, to peek inside the daily life of these iconic birds. Shown here, a newly hatched California condor chick in its nest near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Joseph Brandt/USFWS

Nest cameras are tools that allow the viewer to see through the eyes of the team trying to save endangered condors in the wild, but also allow you, the viewer, to peek inside the daily life of these iconic birds.

"Watching a condor chick and its parents in the wild is a unique and remarkable experience, and one that can be shared with millions of viewers through livestreaming technology," said Molly Astell, wildlife biologist with the Service’s California Condor Recovery Program.

"This live camera takes the viewer right into the nest cave with the condors to watch their behavior and hear the sounds they make," says Charles Eldermire, Bird Camera manager at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

"We hope it will really raise awareness about these spectacular but highly endangered birds and the threats they face. We know from past experience that people form a real emotional connection to the birds they see on the cams as they witness a part of nature they’ve never seen before."

The spectacular but endangered California condor is the largest bird in North America. These superb gliders travel widely to feed on carcasses of deer, pigs, cattle, sea lions, whales, and other animals. Pairs nest in caves high on cliff faces. The wild population fell to just 22 birds in the 1980s, but there are now more than 270 free-flying birds in California, Arizona and Baja California, with another 160 in captivity. Lead poisoning remains a severe threat to their long-term prospects.

"Last year's breeding season culminated in the first condor chick to fledge successfully from one of our livestreamed sites," said Eldermire. "We're hoping we get to observe #923 taking that first leap from the nest ledge this year."

About the nest

The parents of the chick in the Hutton's Bowl nest are mom #289 and dad #374. Both parents were hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo. Dad #374 hatched in 2005 and mom #289 hatched in 2002. This is their first nesting attempt together but both parents have had previous mates.

Condor #374 first nested in 2012 and has had two previous mates and a total of three nests prior to 2018. Each of his prior nests fledged a chick. Condor #289 began nesting in 2008 with a total of 5 prior attempts with three previous mates. She successfully fledged one chick.

The condor chick in the Hutton's Bowl nest hatched on April 6, 2018 from an egg that was laid on Feb 7, 2018. The chick was assigned studbook number #923.

Condor #289 is the elder of the pair having hatched in 2002 and then released into the wild at the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in 2003. Condor #374 hatched in 2005 and released at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in 2007. Before this year, condor #374 was previously paired with females #180 and then #79. He and successfully fledged condors #648 and #733 with female #180.

He and female #79 successfully fledged condors #846. Unfortunately, female #180 went missing in the wild and was declared dead in 2016, and #79 was removed from the wild after she was found to be suffering from cataracts and is currently rehabilitated.

Female #289 was previously mated with males, #98, #239, and #21. While she has nested five times prior to this year she only fledged one chick, #670, with male #239. Of her previous mates, condor #98 is still alive and in the wild, #239 went missing in the wild in 2013 and #21 also went missing in the wild in 2016.

What do their numbers mean?

The condor’s names, or numbers, represent their studbook number. A studbook is a record of the lineage of a wild animal bred in captivity, or in the case of condors, the official lineage of this endangered species managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildllfie Service.

Upon hatching, every condor is assigned a number which acts as a way to identify each individual. Since 1983, every known condor has been assigned a studbook number in chronological order.

A California condor sits atop the capture facility after a medical work up in 2015. Condors are one of the world's longest-living birds, with a lifespan believed to be nearly 60 years. Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

The lower the number, the older the condor.

A studbook is an important tool in scientifically managing populations of threatened and endangered animals and is updated annually to reflect new hatches, deaths, transfers, and releases.

This information may then be used to manage the captive populations to minimize inbreeding and grow populations to a sustainable level. The California Condor International Studbook is maintained and prepared by the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

How can you tell male from female?

It’s very difficult to tell males from females. In general the males are slightly larger. The only sure ways to tell the sexes apart are to see certain behaviors such as copulation or egg-laying, or by using a DNA test. Every California condor in the Southern California flock has been tagged and sexed.

In this nesting territory, male #374 wears a blue tag which represents the 300 studbook series and female #289 wears a yellow tag which represents the 200 studbook series. The studbook number for the chick is #923 When the nestling is four months old, he/she will also receive a handmade wing tag with a sewn-in radio transmitter. This tag will be black with white lettering.

Nest Placement

Condors nest mainly in natural cavities or caves in cliffs, though they sometimes also use trees, such as coast redwood and, historically, the giant sequoia. (As the wild population grows, there is the possibility they may return to the sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada.) Condors have multiple nesting sites and may switch sites between years. Females make the final decision on which nest location to use.

This condor nest is near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge located on property managed by another federal agency, the Bureau of Land Management.

Do the condors use the same nest each year?

Sometimes. They typically nest in the same general area as condor pairs tend to establish a nesting territory. Pairs will sometimes use the same nest year after year but other times they will move to a new cavity within their territory each year.

This is a cavity that was used by #374 and a previous mate in 2016.

California condor 374 shown on a ledge outside the nest near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, watches intently as biologists check the fertility of the egg. Credit: Molly Astell/USFWS

What is a wing tag?

All condors are tagged with at least one distinct color/number wing-mounted tags for identification in the field. Some condors are also fitted with wing-mounted GPS transmitters, like female #289, which biologists use to track their movements in the wild.

Condors cannot be given traditional bird bands because they show a thermoregulatory behavior called urohydrosis, in which they drench their legs with their own excreta during hot weather.

This cools first their legs then their entire bodies via cooled blood from the legs circulating throughout the body. Urohydrosis is very unusual in the bird world, being found elsewhere only in the storks and certain boobies, and is one of the principal behaviors linking the vulturids to the storks.

What do the different numbers stand for on the tags?

The numbers on the wing tags represent the last one or two digits of the bird’s studbook number. Female condor #289 wears a yellow tag with the number “89” and male #374 wears a blue tag with the number “74”. Be sure to let us know if you see any unusual tagged condors visiting the nest.

Partners and support

Conservation efforts toward the recovery of the California condor are achieved only through partnerships amongst federal and state agencies, together with private land owners and organizations. The Pole Canyon Condor Cam is made possible through access provided by private landowners, and through the financial and technical support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Barbara Zoo, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Disney  Conservation Fund and Friends of California Condors Wild and Free.

In California, wild condors are found in the mountains of Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and Kern counties, and most recently in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Tulare and Fresno counties. In 2017, California condors were spotted roosting in the western Sierras for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Condors that have finished their bi-annual medicial work ups at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge wait on top of the flight pen for their mates and fellow flock members to be released. Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS