Live-streaming Condor Nest Cams

 April 2016

Live-streaming Cameras Connect People to Rare California Condors Nesting in the Wild!

Conservation Partners, including the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Launch Live-streaming Cameras on Two Endangered California Condor Nests

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Photo credit: USFWS Condor Program

VENTURA – People around the world have the unprecedented opportunity to observe nesting California condors and their young chicks in real time via live-streaming webcams near the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in southern California and at the Ventana Wildlife Society’s  (VWS) Condor Sanctuary in Big Sur along the central California coast.

Biologists installed webcams in two California condor nests located in the rugged terrain of Ventura and Monterey counties to enable the public to watch California condor chicks and their parents. The idea for live-streaming webcams was conceived in 2010 by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) employees after a remote California condor nest failed due to an injured chick.

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Photo credit: USFWS Condor Program

“What started out as a way for biologists to monitor the health of endangered California condor chicks and the breeding success of the species has become an important tool for outreach about this incredibly rare bird,” said Joseph Brandt, a Service biologist.

Initially observed courting in fall of 2014, Ventura County condor pair #111 and #509 hatched their first chick together in April.Condor #111 is a 21-year old female that has been a breeder since 2001, with four surviving offspring in the southern California flock. Male #509 is 6 years old and fledged from a wild nest near Hopper Mountain NWR. The chick of the Big Sur pair, #167 and #190, hatched in May. Together since 2006, this pair was the first ever recorded to nest in a coastal redwood tree. This year, the California Condor Recovery Program celebrated a milestone in endangered species recovery with a record 19 wild condor nests in California. The two live-streaming nests from Ventura and Monterey counties are two of 11 nests that are still currently active.

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Photo credit: USFWS Condor Program

“Seeing these huge birds raise their young in the wild is unforgettable,” said Charles Eldermire, Bird Cams Project Leader with Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which hosts the livestream webcam of the nest in Ventura County, as well as webcams on many other unique and rare bird species from across the country. “Their success in raising their chicks is critical in the effort to bring the species back from the brink of extinction.” 

Installing the condor nest webcams was no small task; biologists and staff from the Service, Santa Barbara Zoo and VWS hiked heavy camera equipment on foot along deep canyons and steep ridgelines for installation into the nest cavities. The Western Foundation museum is hosting the antenna and server that provide the live-stream feed.

“Many people are aware of our conservation work at Santa Barbara Zoo, but our team also works in the field alongside Service biologists to help train volunteer nest observers and monitor wild California condor nests, making sure eggs and chicks are healthy during the nesting season,” said Estelle Sandhaus, PhD, Director of Conservation Programs for the Santa Barbara Zoo.

In addition to providing viewers with entertainment as the growing condor chicks stretch their wings and feet in unique yoga-like poses, explore the far reaches of their cavities, and interact with their attentive parents, these cameras also help biologists monitor the chicks and parents without trekking to the very remote nesting locations.

VWS in collaboration with Oakland Zoo and FedEx launched the first livestreaming cameras of condors at release sites in Big Sur in 2013.

“Now, anyone with an internet connection can not only watch condors at two release sites, but now observe their behavior in wild nests, which is truly extraordinary,” said VWS executive director Kelly Sorenson.    

In 1982, only 22 California condors survived world-wide. By spring of 1987, all remaining wild condors had been placed in captivity thus beginning an intensive recovery effort among government agencies, zoos and other conservation groups to save the California condor from extinction. In 1992, the Service began reintroducing captive-bred condors into the wild and with the help of public and private partners the total population has grown to approximately 430 birds, with more than half of the population flying free.

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Photo credit: Ed N. Harrison, Western Foundation

The Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge 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, Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, and Friends of California Condors Wild and Free.  The Big Sur nest webcam was made possible through the financial and technical support of the following project partners: Ventana Wildlife Society, Oakland Zoo and FedEx.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. Visit us at

Known as one of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Santa Barbara Zoo is located on 30 acres of botanic gardens and is home to nearly 500 individual animals in open, naturalistic habitats. It is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), representing the highest level of animal care, and participates in AZA cooperative programs for endangered species including Asian elephant, California condor, Channel Island fox, and Western lowland gorilla, among others. The Santa Barbara Zoo is the region’s top paid visitor attraction, attracting nearly 500,000 guests yearly, and has more than 13,000 members. Visit

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Photo credit: Ed N. Harrison, Western Foundation

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab’s website at

The Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (WFVZ) is a non-profit natural history collection specializing in eggs and nests of birds, and a research and education institution dedicated to bird conservation. The Foundation's collections of materials are among the largest in the world, and its mission is to contribute to the conservation of the world’s wild bird species through making our collections and data accessible to researchers, educators, students, and the public. The WFVZ also contributes to bird conservation through bird education programs for scientific professionals and the public, and field- and collections-based research projects and publications.  Visit us

Founded in 1977, Ventana Wildlife Society led the way to successful reintroduction of the Bald Eagle and the California condor, two of the most iconic birds in the world, to native habitats in central California. Through the course of their work, they developed an organizational culture that strongly values science, education and collaboration and regularly found ways for both wildlife and people to benefit from one another. VWS recovers individual species and tracks the populations of many others so that conservation can be timely as well as effective. Focusing on youth education, we better ensure that future generations have the willingness and capacity to help wildlife. Our vision is to have a society who cares for and supports wildlife across the planet, particularly in California.



What happened to the 2015 Koford’s Ridge chick #793?

We are sad to share news that the young California Condor chick #793 has passed away. The chick’s body was found and recovered below the nest cliff on September 24, 2015, after biologists received a mortality signal from the bird’s radio telemetry equipment indicating that the chick had not moved for more than 12 hours.   All of us on the Condor Cam project are saddened by this outcome, and are working to learn more. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will perform a necropsy to try to determine the cause of death. The process may take a few months, and we will share any new information when the process is finished. 

The California Condor Recovery Program will continue its work to grow the population that includes both the release of captive-bred birds and natural recruitment from wild-fledged nests. Even with the loss of this chick, the southern California flock is on track to fledge 50% of the nests we started with this season, which is considered a high success rate.

For now the cam will continue broadcasting from the cliff side. The chick’s parents may visit the nest cavity from time to time in the coming weeks and will likely try to nest again next spring.   Thank you for your support and understanding. We appreciate your passion and interest in the conservation of California Condors. We hope to see you online next year when we plan to broadcast from a condor nest again.

FAQ: Condor Nestcam near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge

Where is the nest located and how was the camera installed?

This California condor nest is located in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, Los Padres National Forest, near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in southern California. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and Santa Barbara Zoo staff hiked awkward and heavy camera equipment on foot along deep canyons and steep ridgelines for installation into the cliffside nest cavity.

What information do you have about the condor parents and chick?

The parents of the chick in the Koford’s Ridge nest are female #111 and male #509. Male condor #509 fledged from a wild nest in Hopper Canyon in 2009 and #111 hatched at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1994 and was released at Lion Canyon in southern California, in 1995. This is their first offspring together and were sighted courting in fall of 2014.

Before this year, condor #111 had been paired with male #125 since 2003. Together, #111 and #125 nested eleven times in the wild and successfully fledged five offspring. Of these five, females #493 and #560 and male #627 are still alive and part of the southern California wild flock. Unfortunately, #125 died in July 2014.

Before she was paired with longtime mate #125, condor #111 was paired with #100 and famously part of a condor trio. In 2001, breeding occurred for the first time in the reintroduced population of California condors. In one of two nests established that year, females #108 and #111 each laid an egg sired by #100 in the same Lion Canyon cavity. While the three condors took turns incubating the eggs, one egg was always left unattended so neither egg received sufficient care. In an effort to save both wild eggs, they were transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo and replaced with first a dummy egg and then a single pipped captive-laid egg. One of the two wild eggs was in poor condition and eventually failed while the other hatched and was assigned the studbook number 262. Male #262, offspring of #111 and #100, was released the next year in 2002 and is raising a chick with his mate #449 this year.

Male #509 had never bred before this year and #111 is his first mate. He fledged from a wild nest in Hopper Canyon in 2009 and is the offspring of female #161 and male #107. Condors #107 and #161 have been a pair since 2004.

The Koford’s Ridge nestling, studbook #793, hatched on April 22 and was tagged on August 20th, at approximately four months of age. We expect this chick to fledge in the next few months.

What do their names mean?

The parent’s names, or in fact numbers, represent their studbook number. Upon hatch, 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.

Do California condors mate for life?

California condors form very long-lasting pair bonds. A pair that has nested successfully at least once is very likely to remain together unless one member of the pair dies. Raising a chick takes approximately 8 months from laying to fledging. Raising a chick is so demanding that there’s a real benefit to a pair to having reliable timing and foraging success.

How old are they when they have their first nest/nestlings?

California condors take a long time to begin breeding. Condors reach sexual maturity at 5-6 years of age. Oftentimes, males will establish a territory and then begin looking for a mate and courting. Some condors find a mate and breed as soon as they are mature whereas others breed for the first time when they are older (8-15 years).

Which parent sits on the nest?

Both parents participate equally in incubating the egg and feeding the chick. After the female lays the egg, both parents take turns incubating it while the other forages for food. Incubation shifts typically last 1-2 days but can be for up to 7 days.

How can you tell which one is the male and which one is the 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 #509 wears a black tag which represents the 500 studbook series and female #111 wears a red tag which represents the 100 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 nest location within their territory from year to year.

How many condor nests are there in southern California?

The number of condor nests in southern California varies each year, however, this year (2015) the population experienced a recording breaking year with 10 wild nests! All of these nests are located in Ventura County in the rugged back country surrounding Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.

How many eggs do California condors lay?

Female condors lay only one egg per nesting attempt and they don’t always nest every year. If a pair’s egg fails early enough in the breeding season, females will often recycle by laying a replacement egg. Often, pairs will skip a year in between breeding attempts to provide extended care for their last offspring.

When do they lay their egg?

Condors lay their egg between January and late May.

How long does it take for the egg to hatch?

Eggs hatch in about 54-58 days.

How big are their eggs?

California condor eggs are about 4.5 inches long and almost 3 inches wide and weigh about 11 ounces. Condor eggs are pale blue-green when they are first laid but over time they fade to white or creamy white.

Are you going to tag the chick?

Yes. When the nestling is approximately 4 months old, trained biologists will tag it so that it can be tracked after fledging. Every wild California condor chick is given a single wing tag and radio transmitter.

Is the chick a boy or a girl?

We can’t tell the chick’s gender just by looking. The only way to know a condor’s gender for sure is by DNA testing or, with adults, by observing behavior (for example, witnessing the female lay an egg, or seeing the male perching on the back of the female during mating). We typically determine the chick’s gender during the first year via a blood test.

How big is the chick?

Upon hatching, nestlings weigh about 9 ounces. When they fledge, five to seven months later, they weigh approximately 17-20 pounds.

The chick seems hungry. Why haven’t the parents fed it?

California condors may travel up to 200 miles to gather food for their chicks. One of them stays with the chick constantly for the first three to four weeks. As the chick grows, it needs more food. The parents stay away for longer and longer, up to 3 days. So keep watching—they will almost certainly come back.

How old will the chick be when it leaves the nest?

Chicks take about 6 months to make their first flight. Some fledge a bit earlier or later.

When does the chick get adult plumage?

At hatch, condor chicks have white down and naked orangeish-yellow heads and necks. The white body down is replaced by a gray down within several weeks, and a short gray down begins to develop on the head and neck by about 50 days of age. Juvenile feathers begin to appear at about 2 months of age, and the skin color of the head changes from a fleshy to slate gray at about 18 weeks. In the fully developed juvenile plumage, the bill is black, the gray-black head and neck are largely covered with gray down, the iris is dark brown, and a feather ruff at the base of the neck is well developed. The body feathers are uniformly blackish, except that many have paler brownish margins at their ends. The wing-lining triangles underside of the extended wings are basically white but are irregularly mottled with dark brown markings and usually a dark spot near the body.

During the bird’s fifth year, a condor gradually achieves full adult coloration, with head color gradually becoming full orange except for a saddle of very short black feathers in front of the eyes., The underwing feathers will become less mottled to pure white, and the bars on the tops of the wings change from light gray to pure white. Over a longer time span the bill color also changes from black to ivory

Does the parent look after the young bird after it leaves the nest?

Yes. Fledglings remain dependent on their parents for another 6-12 months. The total length of a nesting cycle is more than a year.

How does the nestling get water?

From the food it receives from its parents.

The parent has not returned, if the chick is starving will you rescue it?

California condor nestlings have evolved to be able to survive days in isolation while parents are foraging. While the young condors on cam have experienced parents that keep their young well-fed, there is always the risk of a parent dying. Via nest camera, we have observed a single parent continue to care for and fledge a chick after losing its mate. If a condor chick was to lose both of its parents, biologists will intervene to save the chick. It will be removed from the nest and transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo for care and then released as a captive reared bird at about 1.5 years of age.

Does the camera bother the condors?

No, the condors usually ignore the camera. Chicks can be quite mobile and curious—it’s likely that the chick will investigate the camera at some point.

How long will the camera stay on?

The cam will stream during the entire nesting season. We expect this chick to fledge between mid-October and mid-November. However, even after fledging, it is common for condor chicks and adults to occasionally return to the nest. So don’t be surprised if you see the chick back on the camera after fledging.

What type of camera do you use?

The camera is an Axis Q6044e.

How many California condors are there?

There are approximately 430 California condors in the world.

How long do they live?

California condors can live very long lives. We believe that condors can live upwards of 60 years or more. As of 2015, the oldest known California condor is 49 years old and still breeding successfully in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo. The oldest wild condor is 35 years old and still breeding successfully in southern California.

How big are condors?

California condors are very large soaring birds. They are about 4 feet long with a wingspan of 9.5 feet. They typically weigh 17-23 lbs and males tend to be heavier than females.

What predators are threats to California condors?

California condors have few natural predators due to their size. However, large terrestrial predators such as mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats have been known to predate adult and juvenile condors. The golden eagle is the only avian species that poses a threat to adult, juvenile, and young condors. Eggs and nestlings are also at risk to predation from common ravens and black bears.

How big is their territory?

Pairs maintain a nesting territory that range in size from a square mile to few square miles in size depending on the topography. Condors have a much larger overlapping home ranges that are thousands of square miles annually. A condor can travel up to 200 miles in a in a day while foraging for carrion.

What do California condors eat?

Condors are scavengers that eat carrion of land and marine mammals such as deer, cattle, pigs, rabbits, sea lions, and whales.  Young are fed by regurgitation.

How far do they travel to find food?

California condors can fly over 150 miles in a day in search of food. Condors locate carcasses with their keen eyesight (not by smell) by observing other scavengers assembled at a carcass. Once they land, they take over the carcasses from smaller species (such as ravens and turkey vultures), but they are tolerant of each other and usually feed in groups.

How do they get water?

Condors visit pools, ponds, and waterfalls to get water and bathe.

Do they sleep?

Yes. Condors are diurnal like us. They sleep at night, usually high up in a tree or cliff called a roost. Condors demonstrate communal roosting behavior, oftentimes gathering in groups at dusk. To sleep, they lie prone on their perch with their head tucked behind a wing.

Do they have a sense of smell?

Condors do not have a strong sense of smell.

What kinds of sounds do they make?

Condors are usually silent (they lack vocal chords), but can issue a variety of hisses and snorts particularly when defending nest sites. Newborn chicks hiss, wheeze, and grunt at adults.

Why are there no feathers on that bird’s head?

Adult California condors have a distinctive pink head and neck that is bare of feathers. That bare head is perfectly designed to keep rotting food from sticking to it as the birds eat. The skin on an adult condor’s head can also express some emotions. It turns a deep red-pink during courtship or when the birds are excited or alarmed. The adults also have a throat sack that they can puff out during courtship displays.

Are California condors endangered?

Yes, California condors are protected under the Endangered Species Act and listed as federally endangered. They are one of the rarest birds in the world. In 1982, there were only 22 California condors in the world. That year, these remaining condors were placed into a captive breeding program thus beginning an an intensive recovery program to save the California condor from extinction. Due to the recovery efforts of multiple partners dedicated to California condor conservation, today, there are approximately 430 California condors in existence.

When was the first California condor released into the wild?

From 1987 to 1992, no California condors flew free in the California skies. In 1992 captive-bred condors were released into the wild at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge north of Ventura, with additional captive-reared birds added to the flock each year thereafter.

What is the California Condor Recovery Program?

The California Condor Recovery Program (Recovery Program) is a multi-entity effort, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to recover the endangered California condor. Partners in condor recovery include the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Game and Fish Department, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Utah Department of Fish and Wildlife, the federal government of Mexico, Los Angeles Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Chapultepec Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Oakland Zoo, The Peregrine Fund, Ventana Wildlife Society, Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Yurok Tribe and a host of other governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The Recovery Program is now in the final phase of recovery, focusing on the creation of self-sustaining populations. We are placing increased emphasis on the captive-breeding and reintroduction of California condors to the wild and the management of that wild population. These efforts combine trying to reduce the threat of lead with actively managing nesting in the wild to increase the number of wild fledged chicks.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically distinct self-sustaining populations, each with 150 birds in the wild and at least 15 breeding pairs, with a third population of condors retained in captivity. As the Recovery Program works toward this goal, the number of release sites has grown. There are three active release sites in California, one in Arizona and one in Baja, Mexico.

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 male #509, 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 wing tags?

The numbers on the wing tags represent the last one or two digits of the bird’s studbook number. Male condor #509 wears a black tag with the number “9” and female #111 wears a red tag with the number “11”. Be sure to let us know if you see any unusual tagged condors visiting the nest!

Why are some tags on the right wing and others on the left?

Condors can be tagged on either wing. In the early days of the California Condor Recovery Program, every condor was tagged on both wings. Now condors in southern California just wear one wing tag and it can be on either side. The tags are attached by piercing the patagium of the wing. When wearing transmitters this piercing holes can enlarge overtime. We closely monitor the size of these holes when condors are trapped and handled and alternate wings to allow large holes to shrink back down so they can continue to be used.

What can I do to help California condors?

Learning about condors and the natural world in and of itself is a contribution. Knowledge of how biological systems work and the life cycles of animals and plants helps guide our society’s ability to make good land management decisions.

  • Help from Home
    • Be a citizen scientist and help condor recovery right from home. Go to and review photos of condors and record your observations. You will help collect information from the photos that condor biologists on several condor recovery teams will have access to.
  • Understand the Role of Hunting
    • Viable, thriving ecosystems include checks and balances. Hunting has been part of natural balances for thousands of years, depending upon grazing and browsing animals just like the coyote and mountain lion. Scavengers like condors can benefit from eating the scraps that hunters or predators leave on the land.

      Hunters that use non-lead ammunition carry on the proud tradition of wildlife conservation by preventing condors and other animals from being exposed to lead, a toxic substance. Visit Hunting with-Non Lead for more information (
  • Report Poaching
    • Poachers undermine sound wildlife management, infringe on people’s privacy, and disrespect the good efforts of responsible hunters. If you have information about illegal shootings or trespass, call the Department of Fish and Game at (888) DFG-CALTIP (888-334-2258), or your local game agency.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
    • Recycle what you can and think of creative ways to avoid using disposable products in the first place. Not only will you help reduce energy and resource consumption, but you'll also reduce the chance that trash will end up in the wrong place. Because many species of wildlife, including condors, can accidentally ingest plastic or other trash, less trash on the land = healthier wildlife. Extend the three R's ethos to activities outside of your home and look at what you can do in your community to reduce waste and litter. Volunteering to help clean up litter from natural landscapes is a particularly effective way to help wildlife.
  • Celebrate Working Rural Landscapes
    • Condors and other wildlife thrive in open landscapes with sparse human infrastructure. Because condors scavenge for dead animals, they benefit from finding the occasional cow, sheep or other ranch or farm animal that happens to die on the open range.
    • Continuation of ranching traditions is good for people, good for condors, and a great way to ensure that wide open tracts of land will remain part of the heritage of the West.
  • Drive Safely
    • Thousands of animals die every year when they are struck by automobiles. Often, these road kills are scavenged on by other animals and sometimes the scavenger will also end up dead on the road. Condors rarely approach roads, but vultures and other scavengers often do. Slowing down and keeping an eye out for wildlife crossings are good for both wildlife and drivers. No one wants to end up with a deer on their windshield.
  • Keep Wildlife Wild
    • Spread the practice and the word to never feed wild animals intentionally or unintentionally. Properly store food and make it inaccessible to wildlife. Condors and other wildlife need to stay wild and not become habituated to hand-outs. It's bad for their health and changes their behavior negatively. If you see someone feeding wildlife please kindly tell them why it actually hurts the animal.
  • Volunteer