When will California condors get protection against deadly avian flu? Vaccine trials begin

Protecting California condors from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) will require a powerful and as-yet-unavailable vaccine.

A total of 96 giant, critically endangered condors with nearly 10-foot wingspans fly free in San Simeon, Big Sur and Pinnacles.

However, they are vulnerable to avian flu, particularly HPAI.

In Arizona and Utah, 21 California condors have already succumbed to the lethal disease.

Scientists are pulling out all the stops to produce a vaccine for condors including the central California flock.

There is hopeful vaccine-related news from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Incident Command Team.

Avian flu vaccine trials begin

On May 16, HPAI vaccination trials began with 20 black vultures, which are in the same family as condors, receiving doses of the vaccine.

“All vultures that received the vaccine appear to be in good health with no vaccine site reactions,” Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Joanna Gilkeson said.

Blood draws on the 20 vultures were conducted on May 26 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southeast Poultry Research Center, to check for “HPAI antibodies (and) to evaluate immune response,” Gilkeson explained.

Although it’s too soon to detect the effectiveness of the vaccine, “We hope to observe some level of immune response,” she added.

If the results from the initial vaccinations of vultures are positive, a next step will be to implement the vaccine on 25 captive condors.

The trial’s design was the collaboration between Fish and Wildlife, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the U.S. Geological Survey.

New feeding site protocols for California condors

Flock managers throughout California are “adapting strategies to avoid congregation of birds through discontinuation of communal feeding sites and watering areas,” Gilkeson said.

That includes the feeding site in San Simeon, Ventana Wildlife Society executive director Kelly Sorenson explained via email.

“We may temporarily stop feeding at the San Simeon release site until after the fall migration,” Sorenson wrote, “when the next cohort of captive-bred juveniles will be released into the wild, since there are more turkey vultures seen at San Simeon than Big Sur.”

VWS may actually stop feeding “at all sites,” Sorenson said.

This drastic measure would be put into place “should an outbreak (of HPAI) occur in California,” she explained.

The hope is that with the arrival of a potent, successful vaccine, an outbreak will be avoided.

Central California nesting update

As the vaccine trials go forward, a new generation of condors has hatched in four nests

watched over by the Ventana Wildlife Society.

Condors Kodama and Amigo’s egg hatched on March 27.

On April 22, a chick was hatched in the nest of No. 626 and Ninja.

On April 18, a chick hatched in the nest of Ferdinand and No. 550.

And on April 9, an egg was hatched in the nest of Puff Daddy and Miracle.

In Pinnacles on May 9, a chick hatched in the nest of Tiny and No. 340, while Phoebe and No. 589 saw a chick hatch in their Pinnacles nest on May 7.