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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
20 November 2003
Sophie Osborn — in California Condor Restoration    ShareGreetings Notes from the Field Readers,

As many of you are already aware, I have wonderful news to report: Arizona’s first condor chick has successfully fledged from its nest cave!! The much-anticipated and hoped-for event occurred on November 5 at 1339 hours. Condor 305 had spent a very idle day, when he/she suddenly became energized and started flapping and hopping around the cave entrance. The chick kept craning its head around, looking for a ledge to climb to or hop to. Suddenly, it leapt from the cave entrance, seemingly aiming for a neighboring cliff ledge. If it did in fact have a ledge in mind, the chick must have overestimated its abilities because there were no ledges anywhere close to the cave! Split seconds after leaping, the chick succumbed to gravity and began to fall. With its wings only partially extended, it parachuted down in a semi-controlled free-fall.

Grand Canyon National Park Raptor Biologist Chad Olson and I were watching from a distant talus slope, astonishment in our eyes and fear and nervous laughter in our throats. We momentarily lost it from view as a low band of cliffs blocked our view. When it reappeared seconds later, it had managed to extend its wings fully and glided briefly before continuing its partly controlled fall. Finally, it landed surprisingly gently on the talus slope 500-600 feet below the nest cave. What a first “flight!” Although it was more of a controlled plummet, it was nonetheless as thrilling as we could possibly have imagined it would be.

The chick appeared to be “shell-shocked” for several minutes after landing. Finally, it began looking around. A nearby yucca plant immediately caught Condor 305’s eye! Condors are insatiably curious and this chick had never seen vegetation before. It reached out and tugged at a long spiky yucca leaf. Then it tugged at it again…and again. Soon, Condor 305 was exploring its immediate surroundings, hopping from boulder to boulder and returning to its yucca every few minutes to give it some good tugs.

Both parents had been away from the nest area for several days. A mere two hours after Condor 305 fledged, Condor 127 flew in to the area and immediately went to the nest cave to feed her chick. Not seeing it at the entrance, Condor 127 went into the cave. She reappeared a few seconds later, then checked the depths of the cave several more times. Finally, she noticed her chick on the slope directly below the nest cave, flopping its wings in a classic food-begging posture. Quickly, Condor 127 dropped down to her chick and fed it its first post-fledging meal!

On November 7, we attempted to trap the chick to outfit it with radio-transmitters and vaccinate it against the West Nile Virus. We felt that given the chick’s limited flight capabilities at this stage we had a chance at capturing it with our hand-held capture net. And capture it we did – well almost! At one point, we actually had it in the capture net, but unfortunately it managed to get out and ultimately eluded us. After our first capture attempt, the chick became extremely savvy and would not put itself in a position that would allow us to make a second attempt. So, for now, Condor 305 remains free of tags and transmitters.

Thus far, Condor 305 is doing extremely well. It has made it through its first two weeks post-fledging and is taking more and more frequent flights (the longest being about 300 meters). It consistently roosts on the safety of the redwall cliff. Although, it has not yet mastered sufficient flight skills to soar or gain much altitude, it continues to make daily progress.

Until next time….

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