5 February 2004
Sophie Osborn— 5 February 2004 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings Notes from the Field Readers,
Today marked three months since Condor 305 leaped out of its cave in the Grand Canyon and became the first chick to fledge successfully in the wild since the beginning of the condor captive breeding program that was initiated in the early 1980s. I am delighted to report that Condor 305 is alive and well, though perhaps a little less adventurous than we had expected at this stage. Condor 305 is still completely dependent on its parents, Condors 123 and 127, for food. Parent condors feed their young by regurgitating food into the awaiting mouth of their hungry chick. Up until recently Condors 123 and 127 fed their offspring exclusively in this manner. Several times in the last few weeks, however, the parents have regurgitated food onto the floor of a cave or on a rock and Condor 305 has then fed by picking up the partially digested food in its bill. This is a small, but exciting step forward in Condor 305’s long path to independence.
Condor 305 is also becoming an adept flier. Nevertheless, although it makes frequent flights in and around the drainage where it hatched and fledged, it has left this drainage on only two occasions. We had thought by now that Condor 305 would have flown as high as the canyon rim and explored many neighboring drainages, but thus far, it seems content to stay close to home. It has had plenty of practice learning to land on small cliff ledges and in cave entrances and, on January 20, landed for the first time since fledging back at its nest cave. Each night, Condor 305 settles down to roost either in its old nest cave or in one of the many other caves that speckle the dramatic Redwall limestone layer where Condor 305 spends most of its time.
The other condors have been equally inactive in the last few months. While a few have made occasional trips to the South Rim or to the Colorado River Corridor, most have been content to loaf at the release site. Over the last few months, we have placed five global-positioning system (GPS) satellite transmitters on condors (Condors 133, 196, 203, 246, and 274). Thus far, the satellite GPS transmitters are proving to be wonderfully accurate and, as the birds begin traveling, should provide us with a great deal of information regarding their travel paths and activities. A GPS transmitter already helped us locate Condor 196 who spent several days last week on a private ranch near Kanab, Utah, before traveling up to Zion National Park then returning to the release site via Navajo Bridge.
On January 9, one more young condor, Condor 282, joined our free-flying flock. Condor 282 took to the skies for her first time accompanied by Condors 232 and 276 who were being re-released after bouts back in captivity. Condor 276 had only spent three days total in the wild, but kept trying to roost in inappropriate locations on the talus below the cliffs. Twice we failed to get him to a safe roost and recaptured him to give him a fresh start. To our delight, the very negative experiences of being hazed in the dark and recaptured appear to have made a serious impression on this youngster. On his first night back in the wild, Condor 276 made a supreme attempt to get himself up onto a high pinnacle adjacent to the cliff where the other birds were roosting. After several misses, Condor 276 finally managed to land successfully on this inaccessible roosting spot. He has not looked back since and is rapidly becoming a successful new member of the free-flying flock. Condor 282, despite being a very submissive young female, has learned quickly how to roost safely and is competing successfully with the older birds at carcasses.
Most of the activity in the condor world at this time of year revolves around condor courtship. This year has been marked by both divorce and new pairings and the condors continue to keep the field crew guessing (and speculating!) about who will ultimately join together and produce an egg. Condors 119 and 122, who nested unsuccessfully for the last two years at Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim in a portion of the cliffs known as The Battleship, appear to be maintaining their pairing this year. Although they have spent some time around The Battleship, including at least two nights in their old nest cave, the pair has not yet decided on a nest site for this year.
Condors 134 and 149, who for the past two years appeared to be a pair, have officially broken up. Condor 134 has yet to bestow his attentions on another female. Condor 149, meanwhile, has been consorting with Condor 114, formerly of our “Condor Quad.” The condor quad, which consisted of two males – Condors 114 and 162 – and two females – Condors 126 and 133 – that were inseparable last year, have finally broken up. The much-hoped-for breakup (the quad nested unsuccessfully in a cave on the Vermilion Cliffs last year; four condors trying to incubate one egg appeared to be two too many!) occurred in part because Condor 133 has garnered the attention of Condor 158. Condor 158 is probably the most dominant condor in our flock at the present time and appears to be a more desirable choice for Condor 133 than her previous quad-mates. With Condor 133 out of the picture, Condor 149 began to consort with male Condors 114 and 162. We recently recaptured Condor 162 and are holding him temporarily in our flight pen in the hopes that Condor 114 will finally be able to pair up with a female in the absence of Condor 162’s distracting influence. Whether or not Condors 133 and 158 and Condors 114 and 149’s present associations will actually become definitive pairings remains to be seen.
One new potential pairing that we are especially excited about is that of Condors 136 and 187. Condor 136 is a soon-to-be-eight-year-old female that was part of the very first release group in Arizona in December 1996. Despite being, in our eyes, a wonderful condor, for some reason Condor 136 has had little to no appeal to the male condors over the last three years. However, this year, to our delight, Condor 136 has been displayed to by several males and appears to have utterly captivated Condor 187. While we are delighted that Condor 136 is finally being appreciated by the males of her species, we are also delighted that Condor 187 has transferred his affections to her. Last year, Condor 187’s attentions were focused on Condor 176 who, unbeknownst to him, is his sister. If Condor 136 and 187 do in fact maintain their current association, we think they’ll make a wonderful pair.
As courtship and nest searching continue to intensify over the next few weeks, we are ever hopeful that a new pair will lay its first egg and that Condors 119 and 122 will finally hatch a chick successfully. We are also looking forward to Condor 305’s expanding its horizons and joining in with the activities of the rest of the condor flock.
We’ll keep you posted…
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