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3 Relocated California Condors Fly Back Home : Wildlife: Endangered birds return to Sespe sanctuary. They had been moved to Santa Barbara backcountry in the fall for safety reasons.


Three endangered California condors that were captured in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary near Fillmore last fall and relocated to a remote area in the rugged hills above Santa Barbara have flown home, wildlife officials said.

Scientists hope that the wandering birds will be unable to find food in the Sespe and return to the Santa Barbara backcountry. But if they do not, the troublesome vultures could be moved again or captured and kept as breeding stock.

"They stayed over there for quite a long time," said Robert Mesta, condor project coordinator for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It was last week that they moved back. They have a tendency to wander."

The renegade female birds were born at the Los Angeles Zoo and released into the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in 1992.

They are three of four condors moved to a distant ridge along Lion Canyon in Los Padres National Forest in the fall when scientists decided that the Sespe site had become too hazardous.

Three condors were killed in recent years after colliding with power lines, and another died in 1992 after drinking antifreeze near Pyramid Lake.

Michael Wallace, biologist curator of birds at the Los Angeles Zoo and a member of the California Condor Recovery Team, said a group of scientists met in Los Angeles last week to discuss the wayward birds.

"We're going to wait and see what they're going to do," Wallace said. "The ideal situation is they'll get hungry enough and go back to where they know food is, in Lion Canyon."

But "if they're not going to behave, then they'll be brought back into captivity," he added.

Of the nine condors now in the wild, the oldest, Xewe, stayed in Lion Canyon with a group of five young birds released there in November. Wildlife experts are concerned that the three wandering vultures could lead the younger birds to the Sespe.

"Having them come to the Sespe is not the problem, but we don't want them escorting younger birds over there," Mesta said.

Wallace said biologists think that the older birds may be reluctant to leave their original home.

"That tie is so strong that they may refuse to go back," he said. "We're watching their behavior very carefully. We don't know if what they're doing is normal behavior or not."

Wallace said signs of refusal to fly or "moping around" might indicate the reluctance of the birds to return to Lion Canyon.

If the condors do not return on their own, scientists will move the birds back to Santa Barbara County or capture them for use as breeding stock at the Los Angeles or San Diego zoos.

Biologists decided to give the condors until the end of the week before taking any action. They believe that the condors left Lion Canyon around March 12 or 13.

"They fed on either Saturday or Sunday morning, did a pit stop on Monday at Madulce peak," which is near Pine Mountain north of Ojai, Wallace said. "By Tuesday, they were back at the ridge along the Sespe where they were originally released--their original home."

The condors had taken a few exploratory flights in recent months, Wallace said, adding that it was not surprising that the birds had found their way back to the Sespe.

"They'd made some tentative flights to the north . . . made a flight to the south. They were exploring the wilderness area," he said. "Then they got wind of or sight of the Sespe area. Hopefully, they will be able to fly back."

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