Four young California condors are set to be released today into Los Padres National Forest, joining 15 adult condors who already range the four-corner area where northern Ventura and Santa Barbara counties meet Kern and San Luis Obispo counties.
With an estimated 116 condors in the world, "releasing these four is a big step," said Jane Hendron of the Ventura-based California Condor Recovery Program.
The 7-month-old chicks come from the Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Wildlife Preserve and will be set free in the Cuyama Valley region in Santa Barbara County.
The adult and baby condors all have minuscule radio transmitters attached to their wings.
"So we're able to monitor their whereabouts every hour of the day," said Hendron, whose program is a division of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. "Each bird even has its own unique radio frequency."
Which is how Hendron knows exactly when and where the huge, endangered birds with the 9-foot wing spans like to pass their time.
"Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak in Ventura County are popular stopping-off places for the adult birds, so we expect the younger birds will join them . . . " she said.
"But these guys range far and wide. We had a recent rare four-bird visit to Tulare County, and the birds have even been spotted flying over the Tehachapi Mountains for the first time ever."
Initially scheduled for release Monday, the first rainstorm in the mountains in 10 months postponed the release until the end of the week.
Another five young condors will be set free later this month in the Ventana Wilderness, also in Los Padres National Forest, near Big Sur, followed by a third release near Page, Ariz.
Ventura County's wilderness was once a prime site for condor release, but after several birds died the scientists moved to more remote regions.
In 1992 and 1993 several chicks were released in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. One died from poisoning and poachers were indicted and fined for shooting at three others. One bird died from ingesting anti-freeze. In 1993, three died after colliding with power lines. The remaining four condors were then trapped and released in Lion Canyon later that year. Some of these birds now comprise the group of 15 adults that are due to fly over the four-county region today.
Hendron said the older birds already ranging in Los Padres National Forest are "only young condors themselves, 3 years old. They don't reach sexual maturity until they're 6 years old, and then they tend to lay one egg at a time."
She added that the birds' long maturation process is offset, however, by the fact that condors have a long life span. "Fifty years or more," Hendron said.
"Our goal is 150 condors in California. There'll come a day when there are so many birds, it won't be practical to put transmitters on them."
Hendron will present a program on the California condor at Camarillo's Optimist Club on Nov. 24.