Live Video: Pole Canyon 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 on Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.

Watch the Pole Canyon California condor webcam. This recently installed nest camera located on Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: USFWS


Welcome! You are watching the Pole Canyon California condor webcam, featuring live video of California condors nesting in the wild.

This recently installed nest camera is located on Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California. 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 allow the viewer to see through the eyes of the team trying to save endangered condors in the wild. Shown here, a newly hatched condor chick in its nest on 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.

About the nest

The parents of the chick in the Pole Canyon nest are mom #563 and dad #262. Dad #262 was laid in 2001 and was the first viable egg laid in the wild since the reintroduction program began. He was actually one of two eggs laid to a trio (male #100 and females #111 and #108) but was brought into captivity to ensure proper incubation. He hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and was released back to the wild a year later in 2002. Mom #563 hatched at the Oregon Zoo in 2010. This is their first nesting attempt together but both have nested previously with mates who are now deceased.

What do their numbers mean?

The parent’s names, or in fact numbers, represent their studbook number. 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 California condor sits atop the capture facility after a medical work. Condors are one of the world's longest-living birds, with a lifespan of 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 #262 wears a yellow tag which represents the 200 studbook series and female #563 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.

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 located in remote canyon near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.

Do the condors use the same nest each year?

Sometimes. Condor pairs will establish a nesting territory and typically nest in the same general area with multiple potential nest cavities. Pairs will sometimes use the same nest year after year but other times they will move the nest location within their territory from year to year. This particular cavity has been used once before in 2008 by another pair from which they successfully fledged their chick. This #563’s second nesting attempt in Pole Canyon nest territory.

From a ledge outside the nest near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, California condor 374 watches intently as biologists check an egg's fertility. 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. Both #262 and #563 also wear GPS transmitters, which biologists use to track their movements while they are not at the nest. The transmitters can be seen on the wing just above the tag number.

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 #262 wears a yellow tag with the number “62” and female #563 wears a black tag with the number “63”. Be sure to let us know if you see any unusual tagged condors visiting the nest.

What information do you have about the birds on the camera?

The parents of the chick in the Pole Canyon nest are mom #563 and dad #262. Dad #262 was laid in 2001 and was the first viable egg laid in the wild since the reintroduction program began. He was actually one of two eggs laid to a trio (male #100 and females #111 and #108) but was brought into captivity to ensure proper incubation. He hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and was released back to the wild a year later in 2002. Mom #563 hatched at the Oregon Zoo in 2010. This is their first nesting attempt together but both have nested previously with mates who are now deceased.

Before this year, condor #262 was previously paired with female #449. They successfully fledged condor #804 in 2015. Unfortunately, female #449 went missing in the wild in 2017 and is presumed deceased. Female condor #563 was previously paired with male #237. They successfully hatched their chick in 2018, #924, however the chick went missing from the cavity at around 38 days old and was never found or recovered. #237 also went missing in the wild in 2018 and is presumed deceased. Male #262 and female #563 paired following #237’s disappearance and have been flying together this past year. This will be their first actual nesting attempt.

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