Thom Lord— 10 October 2005 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings, Notes from the Field Readers! We spent most of the month of September gearing up for the fall, one of the busiest periods of the year for Condor Project biologists. The fall hunting season provides the condors with a tremendous food source, but also unfortunately provides numerous opportunities for lead exposure. This lead seems to be largely obtained in the form of lead bullet fragments from carcasses and gutpiles, and the rapidity with which the birds find these food sources requires us to track intensively throughout the fall to keep up with them (for more information on bullet fragmentation and lead exposure, see Hunt et. al.’s publication, “Bullet fragments in deer remains: implications for lead exposure in avian scavengers,” on The Peregrine Fund website at http://www.peregrinefund.org/pdfs/ResearchLibrary/Hunt-bullet-ms.pdf). If we find that a condor or group of condors has fed on a lead-contaminated carcass, we immediately attempt to trap the bird(s) to test and possibly treat them.
We worked toward a number of objectives last month in order to streamline the testing and treatment process, allowing us to more effectively assess and potentially save the life of each affected condor. Perhaps most importantly, we made significant headway in completing construction on our laboratory and treatment facility, adding an x-ray unit and an isolation chamber. This effort, spearheaded by Project Supervisor Chris Parish and volunteers David Wall and Steve and Holly Jones, will allow us to x-ray a condor with high blood lead levels in order to determine whether it contains lead fragments in its digestive tract. If so, we will be able to hold and treat that bird in isolation until we are sure the fragments have been passed. Being able to do this on-site will save hours of traumatic car travel for affected condors, which previously had to be driven to Flagstaff or Phoenix. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Dave, Steve and Holly for their help, as well as to the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and the Heritage Fund for providing much of the funding and equipment involved.
As one can see, dealing with lead poisoning in condors is an often complicated and labor intensive process, and is certainly unpleasant for the wild birds being trapped and handled. The best way to deal with the problem is to minimize condors’ access to lead in the first place, and we again thank Arizona Game and Fish for their important work in this area. AZGFD has initiated a program this year to provide hunters in the condors’ primary foraging range with two free boxes of non-lead ammunition, hopefully reducing the amount of lead available to the birds during hunting season. A large percentage of these hunters have already taken advantage of this offer, and with their help we hope to see a significant decrease in lead exposure this fall. Thank you!
While we prepared for the upcoming hunting season, the condors continued in roughly the same patterns established in the previous few months. Areas near Utah’s Zion National Park continued to see a large number of condors, including two of the recently transferred birds from Pinnacles National Monument. The condors continued to find and feed upon various carcasses including a mule and several mule deer. This year’s wild-hatched chicks seemed to be healthy and on track for fledging in November or December. In the meantime, we will continue to prepare for the challenges of the upcoming months.
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