Live Video: Devils Gate California Condor Nest

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our conservation partners have launched a livestreaming camera of an endangered California condor nest in the mountains near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.

Paired California condors #206 and #513 perch atop the condor capture facility on Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. For the third year in a row the public has the unique opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with a California condor chick through livestreaming video of a California condor nest. The chick, 50-days-old today, and its parents live in the remote mountains near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, California. Credit: Stephanie Herrera/USFWS

Welcome! You are watching the Devils Gate condor webcam located in Los Padres National Forest, one of the first webcams to stream live video of California condors nesting in the wild. This recently installed nest camera located near the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in southern California, will be streaming continuously throughout the year.


LIVE STREAMING VIDEO: Ths webcam will stream the chick's daily life, hopefully fledging sometime in November 2017. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started one of the first webcam to stream live video of wild condors raising a chick. This webcam will stream the chick's daily life.
Open in YouTube to view full screen.

“Webcam viewers will see the rich social interactions of these intelligent birds, such as the two adults sharing parental duties, and their interactions with each other and the chick,” said Dr. Estelle Sandhaus, director of conservation and research at the Santa Barbara Zoo. “Condor chicks actually engage in ‘play,’ by pouncing on and grabbing feathers and sticks, for instance. It’s a thrill to watch the chick grow, learn, and play under the watchful eyes of its dedicated parents.”

Nest cameras are tools allowing 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.

“We’re eager and excited to not only be able to share this experience with the world, but also open up the opportunity for more people to learn about California condors, what makes them such remarkable birds, and draw attention to the very real threats they face in the wild,” said Joseph Brandt, condor biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"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 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.

About the nest

The parents of the chick in the Devil’s Gate nest are mom #513 and dad #206. Dad, #206, hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1999 and released into the wild at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in 2000 and Mom, #513, hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho in 2009 and released at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in 2010. This is the pair’s third attempt at nesting together. The two previous attempts were unsuccessful.

This screen capture shows the chick, assigned studbook number #871,  and its parents in their nesting area near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, California. Credit: USFWS NestCam

In 2015, a rock fell from above the nest and struck the chick severely injuring it. Biologists attempted to rescue the chick but it’s injuries were to severe and the chick was euthanized. In 2016 the pair attempted to nest again but this chick suffered from a microtrash impaction and multiple bone fractures was euthanized.

Before this year, condor #206 was previously paired with females #255 then #370. He and female #255 successfully fledged condor #449 but then had a series of failed nesting attempts. They parted amicably in 2010/2011 and went on to pair with new mates.

In 2012, #206 paired up with #370 and that year they successfully fledged condor #658. Unfortunately, #370 went missing in the wild in late 2014 and is presumed deceased. Female condor #513 has never bred before this year and #206 is her first mate. Their chick hatched on April 11th and has been assigned the studbook number #871.

What do their names mean?

California condor #206 sits atop the capture facility after a medical work up in 2015. Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

The parent’s names, or in fact 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. 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 #206 wears a yellow tag which represents the 200 studbook series and female #513 wears a black tag which represents the 500 studbook series. 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.

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 the precise nest location within their territory from year to year. This pair used this nest site during their first nesting attempt in 2015.

California condor #513 recently spotted here on a ledge near her nest in Los Padres National Forest. 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 #513, 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. Male condor #206 wears a yellow tag with the number “6” and female #513 wears a black tag with the number “13”.

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.

Partners and support

The Hopper Mountain NWR nest webcam was made possible through the financial and technical support of the following project partners: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Barbara Zoo, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology. Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and Friends of California Condors Wild and Free.