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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
January 2006
Thom Lord — in California Condor Restoration    ShareGreetings, Notes from the Field readers! The new year began on a primarily positive note for The Peregrine Fund’s Condor Restoration. The first month of 2006, however, also presented new challenges and lessons for the biologists on the project. In January, we were able to re-release two condors, saw promising courtship behavior in a number of pairs, monitored the encouraging progression of our two most recent wild-fledged chicks, and, sadly, lost one bird to a relatively uncommon illness.

Condor 350 is released after recovering from a broken wing.
Condor 350 is released after recovering from a broken wing.
As I described in December’s NFTF, January was marked for the release of wild-fledged Condor 350, who had been in captivity for treatment of a broken wing. After observing him (we have recently learned through DNA analysis that he is a male) for a number of weeks post-treatment, we determined that Condor 350 seemed to be recovered completely. On 19 January, we brought Condor 350 to the rim of the Paria Plateau, very near the release site. Immediately upon the opening of the kennel door, he burst out, took two steps, and was in the air. As he circled up to soar with about twenty other condors, there was little doubt that he had completely recovered, and was no worse for wear. On the same day, we were able to release adult Condor 162, who had been held temporarily for behavioral reasons. Both Condors 350 and 162 remained near the release site through the rest of the month, seeming to readjust well to their freedom.

As the breeding season approaches, we are beginning to see consistent courtship behavior in quite a few adult pairs. We have at least five well-established pairs so far this year, all of which have the potential to produce a chick. In addition, we have a few unpaired adults that have shown courtship behavior, any of which could surprise us and breed this season. Meanwhile, last year’s two wild chicks are developing well, with Condor 389 making its first flight to the release site near the middle of the month. All of the biologists observing Condor 389 have commented on its obvious improvement in flying ability, and it has since taken many flights of 20-30 minutes. While it was initially chased by the other condors from the area of the release site, Condor 389 seems to have been accepted now by the rest of the flock, and was actually roosting with some of the other birds at the release site by the end of the month. Condor 392, the wild chick hatched last year in the Grand Canyon, has flown considerably less than Condor 389, but still seems active and healthy. Being slightly younger than Condor 389, we expect Condor 392 to begin traveling a bit more very soon.

In addition to all of the great news in January, we had an unfortunate and surprising death of a bird in captivity. Condor 382, one of the birds from our newest cohort, was found dead in the flight pen where it was being held awaiting release. We were initially perplexed by the death, as nothing had appeared particularly awry with the bird in the days leading up to its death. An initial superficial inspection of the bird offered no clues, and the bird was sent to the San Diego Zoo’s Pathology Department for necropsy. The results indicated that the bird had succumbed to a type of fungal pneumonia most likely caused by Aspergillus spores. Fortunately, these spores do not commonly cause problems for condors. Unfortunately, however, symptoms of infection are often difficult to detect until it is too late. None of the other birds in the flight pen are showing any indication of problems, but we will continue to monitor each of these birds closely. It seems this was an isolated incident, and we’re all looking forward to getting the rest of the young birds in the pen out into the wilds of northern Arizona as soon as possible.

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