For the first time in 100 years, a flock of six California condors has been spotted flying over Mount Diablo and Contra Costa County. According to Save Mount Diablo, the birds, identified as condors 692, 726, 943, and 1021, spent several hours over Round Valley and Morgan Territory Regional Preserves, marking a significant milestone for the critically endangered species and offering new hope for their future.
This remarkable event follows two separate sightings in recent years: one condor was spotted in Contra Costa County in 2021 and another over Brushy Peak Regional Preserve in June 2022. The latest sighting serves as a testament to the success of ongoing conservation efforts, including those by Save Mount Diablo's Mary Bowerman Science and Research program, which helped fund GPS transmitters to track the condors' movements.
"This is amazing news," said Seth Adams, Save Mount Diablo's Land Conservation Director. "This is the first flock of California condors to visit Contra Costa in 100 years, and the first record of one flying west of Diablo's peaks. I started chasing condors 40 years ago and since the recovery program began, I've been hoping the birds would reclaim Mount Diablo. Now they are."
Joseph Belli, a wildlife biologist volunteering for the California condor recovery program at Pinnacles National Park, believes that this year is particularly exciting since there are more condors overall, and most of them are young, not yet breeding age. The condors have been flying north from Pinnacles since 2004, but the last few years have seen a significant uptick in their usage of the northern Diablo Range.
Flights like these could be the first step towards the condors expanding their range further north, though it might be years before condors nest in Contra Costa County. "I think it has to do with exploring and learning a potentially promising new landscape," added Belli. "I think the birds are getting to know the area better, and I believe that if the population continues to grow, that will be the key to birds claiming territories north of San Benito County."
California condors require cavities for nesting, so they look for cliffs, large rocky areas, or mature redwood trees with large hollows. They also need good foraging habitat (relatively undeveloped areas), including rangelands and water sources, to thrive.
In the 1980s, California condors were on the brink of extinction, with their population dwindling to only 22 individuals. The primary threat was lead poisoning from ingesting lead bullets in carrion. Recovery programs in the 1990s began releasing condors back into the wild, gradually increasing their numbers. In 2019, new state regulations in California prohibited the use of lead ammunition when hunting wildlife throughout the state.
Though still critically endangered, California condors have made a near-miraculous recovery in the past 30 years, with hundreds now living in the wild. Biologists continue to document their movements and habitat use through GPS transmitters and radio tags, which is crucial for maintaining their population growth.
As the California condor population recovers, their territory could potentially expand throughout the northern Diablo Range. Visitors to Mount Diablo could one day look up and see these majestic birds soaring overhead.
Save Mount Diablo, a nonprofit land trust established in 1971, works to preserve the peaks, surrounding foothills, watersheds, and connection of the Diablo Range. Through land acquisition and preservation strategies, the organization safeguards the area's natural beauty, biological diversity, and historic and agricultural heritage while enhancing the quality of life for local residents and offering educational and recreational opportunities. To learn more, please visit www.savemountdiablo.org.