Easter Egg

Pasquale at about three weeks old. Condor chicks remain in the nest for about six months before hopping out to take their first flight.

Sometimes Easter eggs hatch.

On or around March 28, a condor chick broke out of its shell inside a cavity in a burnt-out redwood tree in central Big Sur, somewhere near the coast.

The location of the nest is secret, but the nest is not: It’s the only California condor nest to ever stream live via a webcam, which was put there in 2015 by biologists from the Ventana Wildlife Society. The wildlife conservation nonprofit, founded in 1977, has worked actively to restore wild breeding populations of California condors, an endangered species, and bald eagles, which were taken off the federal endangered species list in 1995, and off the threatened species list in 2007.

The reason VWS biologists aren’t 100-percent certain the condor chick hatched March 28 is because the Condor Cam, as it’s called, was without an internet connection for a few days due to electricity being knocked out by a storm (the livestream connects to a source in Big Sur, which broadcasts it to internet).

For weeks, VWS staff had been counting down the days until the egg hatched – it would have been the first time ever a wild condor was born on camera, so long as it hatched in daylight.

“When that chick hatches, oh it gets fun, it’s just a ton of fun to watch,” said VWS Executive Director Kelly Sorenson, in mid-March, about two weeks before the egg was expected to hatch. “Knowing how kids react to this, I think it’s going to be a huge hit.”

But, as is often the case, nature had its own plans, and when the power came back on March 29 and the camera once again went live, the chick had already hatched. VWS biologists determined, based on its size, that it was likely born the day before.

Kids, however, reacted just as Sorenson expected.

On Easter weekend, two sisters who live in Chester, in Plumas County, were delighting in the Condor Cam, and struck upon a name for the newborn chick: Pasquale, an Italian name meaning “related to Easter” that has roots in Latin, Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew (where its root word is associated with Passover, which is the same time of year).

Madeline and Anja Blaufuss, ages 10 and 8, had recently camped with their parents at Pinnacles National Park, and started watching the Condor Cam in February before that trip. On their visit, they saw condors flying overhead, and they became hooked.

Watching the newborn chick on the Condor Cam on Easter morning, the sisters struck on the name Pasquale because that was the name of a rabbit doll their mother Kirsten had sewn and given to Madeline a few years prior, as an Easter gift.

Because the chick hatched so close to Easter, they thought, it was the perfect name.

“‘Easter’ would be sort of plain,” Anja says of a potential name.

VWS was planning to sell the naming rights for $5,000, but when the girls emailed their suggestion to Joe Burnett, VWS’s senior wildlife biologist, he says it was “a no-brainer.”

“This was such a special exception, to have these girls want to watch Pasquale grow up on the cam, and be stewards for wildlife – it’s as good as it gets,” Burnett says. “That was like hitting a home run.”

For condors, the name also has symbolic significance: On Easter Sunday in 1987, the last wild condor (at the time) was captured by biologists and brought into captivity, a process that began in the early ’80s when, in 1982, the population was down to just 22 birds.

That dire situation was brought on by human-created factors like egg-shell thinning from DDT – a now-banned pesticide – and the use of lead bullets by hunters; when condors eat carrion killed by lead bullets, condors can die from lead poisoning.

VWS has been working with hunters to eliminate lead bullets in the region – VWS has been giving copper bullets away for free since 2012 – and Sorenson credits hunters for helping condors continue their spectacular recovery.

“Those people are really contributing to the solution,” Sorenson says.

The Central Coast’s condor population – boosted by captive-bred condor releases VWS has carried out since 1997 – is now, with the hatching of Pasquale, up to at least 91 birds. VWS still puts out stillborn calves at a feeding site in Big Sur to give young condors a lead-free food source, but Sorenson says the goal is to eventually stop doing that once the population rebounds further.

And that’s why the name Pasquale has such special significance – condors, once on the brink of extinction, continue to increase their numbers every year.

“It was an opportunity to really capture the story,” Sorenson says of the name Pasquale. “That’s what this is – the story is about Easter.”

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