23 December 2003
Sophie Osborn— 23 December 2003 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings Notes from the Field Readers,
Just a quick update to reassure you that Condor 305, the first wild-hatched condor to successfully leave its nest cave since 1982, is alive and well in the Grand Canyon! Condor 305 has now survived seven weeks post-fledging and seems to be thriving. Although it has not yet left the drainage where it hatched and fledged, it has continued to develop its flight skills. During the first month or so after taking the precipitous 500- to 600-foot leap from the shelter of its nest cave, Condor 305 learned to make short flights along the base of the cliff. We were delighted to see that this wild-hatched condor had amazing instincts: it seemed driven to get ever higher on the cliff face and to follow its parents’ example of perching on narrow cliff ledges. Thus far, these instincts have kept Condor 305 safe from any potential predators.
In the last few weeks, Condor 305 has managed to gain significant altitude during its short flights. It can now reach the top of the redwall cliff layer (a ~600 foot layer of sheer cliff containing the nest cave) and has been using some of the large caves that its parents sometimes frequent for nighttime roosts. (It has never returned to its nest cave and we don’t expect it to do so). Condor 305’s longest flight to date was a six-minute flight during which it repeatedly contoured along the base of the cliff.
Condor 305 continues to be 100% dependent on its parents for food. Typically, one of the parents feeds the chick every three to four days. However, the feeding rates have varied significantly. During one seven-day period, parent Condors 123 and 127 fed their chick six times! On the other hand, they have also gone as many as nine days without refueling their chick with a meal. So far a combination of Peregrine Fund and Grand Canyon National Park personnel, and Alex Mee with the Zoological Society of San Diego have managed to keep the chick in view close to 100% of the time. As it starts to venture farther away from the nest cave, it will be more and more challenging to keep tabs on our chick since it is the only condor in the wild without radio transmitters!
Meanwhile, the rest of the condor flock has been spending the majority of its time loafing at the Vermilion Cliffs. Peregrine Fund field crewmembers have frequently been treated to the sight of more than 30 free-flying condors feeding simultaneously on carcasses atop the Vermilion Cliffs! Condors 232 (a re-release candidate), 276, and 280 are currently in our release pen and likely will be released in early January, bringing our free-flying flock to 41 birds!
On December 19, we received ten new juvenile condors from The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey breeding facility. We thank Norm Freeman, long-time friend of The Peregrine Fund’s condor and Aplomado Falcon projects, for transporting our birds safely to us from Boise. Last year, Norm flew our birds down for us. This year, he opted for a new means of transport that actually meant less time in kennels for the young condors. The 10 condors, that hatched this past spring, were outfitted with number tags on December 18, then put into transport kennels and driven in an enormous RV from Boise to our viewing area below the Vermilion Cliffs.
At 0900 hours on December 19, an armada of volunteers from the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and Grand Canyon National Park helped Peregrine Fund field crewmembers drive the birds up to our release site and carry them down to our flight pen. Each condor was released from its transport kennel into its new home on the Vermilion Cliffs. The fuzzy-headed youngsters quickly hopped up to perches and many of them began sunning – a magnificent sight! The juveniles looked like they had just come from the laundromat: all shiny and new with not a feather worn or out of place! Our new condors are Condors 291, 293, 296, 297, 299, 300, 302, 304, 314, and 316. Their arrival in Arizona brings the total number of condors in Arizona to an unprecedented 51!! Over the next few weeks they should become acclimated to their new home, meet the free-flying condors, and begin establishing their dominance hierarchy. We will keep you posted on their progress. In the meantime, Happy Holidays to you all and may 2004 be a spectacular year for you and for our condors!
Until next time….
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