Little Lost Condor
After a fight with a golden eagle in Big Sur, Centennia disappears.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Centennia, the first condor chick to hatch in Monterey County in 100 years, soared above a vertical cliff face pocked with a small cave that served as her nest site. The nearly 8-month-old chick flew solo—Centennia’s parents weren’t around as Ventana Wildlife Society wildlife biologist intern Deborah Visco watched the condor on Dec. 4. Then, as Visco looked on, a golden eagle attacked the chick.
Visco says she saw the two grappling as they freefell through the sky. Once they disengaged, the chick landed on the ground and then flew fast toward the northeast, while the eagle stayed around and seemed to patrol the remote area of the Big Sur backcountry. The condor chick has not been seen since.
VWS senior wildlife biologist Joe Burnett says golden eagles and condors have been known to compete for food in the wild. While condors are unable to match an eagle in a fight, mature condors are able to bluff or outmaneuver their competitors. Young condors, however, are less prepared then their elders to defend against an attack. And if a golden eagle captures a condor, the eagle’s powerful talons can prove deadly. “It’s just like Freddy Krueger,” Burnett says. “If they get hold of a condor’s head, it’s lights out.”
It’s been more than a month since they have seen the chick, and the VWS and the condor’s parents are worried about the young bird. Its parents returned the next day and seemed to be looking for the chick. At one point, the father corkscrewed high in the sky above the nesting area, which Burnett says was likely an attempt to attract the attention of the young condor.
VWS scientists fear Centennia may be dead, but there is no way to know for sure since the condor was not outfitted with a tracking device. While all of the other birds are equipped with a device that allows VWS to track their movements, scientists never attached anything to Centennia because of the remote, extreme landscape where she was nesting.
The loss of Centennia is a disappointment to the organization, but VWS remains optimistic about the prospects for other condor chicks to thrive in Monterey County. There’s another 8-month-old chick named Ventana who resides in a Big Sur redwood canyon, an ecosystem where golden eagles rarely make appearances. In addition, Burnett says Centennia’s mother and father might become more cautious parents next time: “This may be a major learning experience for this young pair.”