Thom Lord— 3 April 2006 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings, Notes from the Field readers! I’m sure that those of you that read last month’s NFTF are interested in the condition of Condor 134, the bird that was rescued in the Grand Canyon and taken to the Phoenix Zoo for treatment of lead poisoning. The good news is that Condor 134 is still alive and seems to be improving; however, this turned out to be one of the good points in a month with quite a few dramatic ups and downs.
Some of the most exciting news in March came at the very beginning of the month, when crewmember Eddie Feltes reported a visual on Arizona’s first confirmed condor egg of the season! The egg was laid by Condor 133, who spent the rest of the month sharing incubation duties with her mate, Condor 158. This pair has shown breeding behavior for two years now, and it is quite exciting to see them progress to this new stage.
As the month went on, it became increasingly apparent that two other pairs had also laid eggs! Condors 136 and 187, who laid an egg last year that did not hatch, again used the same nest cave (see the June 2005 NFTF). Although the cave’s location prevents us from seeing the egg, the pair is exhibiting textbook incubation behavior, and we’re watching closely and hoping that they’ll produce a chick on their second try. The last pair to show definite incubation behavior were proven breeders Condors 119 and 122. Unlike Condors 136 and 187, Condors 119 and 122 chose a different cave this year. Their new location complicates observations of the cave, as viewing it requires a long hike into the Grand Canyon. We began suspecting that the pair might have an egg in late February, but we could not confirm a location until veteran crewmember Roger Benefield made the hike and was able to see both birds entering and exiting the cave.
All three pairs exhibited model breeding behavior through most of the month, and things seemed to be on track for hatching. On 25 March, however, crewmember Jim Willmarth went to check an odd signal on Condor 122, the male from this year’s Grand Canyon pair. He found Condor 122 at the Vermilion Cliffs release site, obviously in compromised condition. Jim caught Condor 122 and brought him down to our treatment facility, where we saw the telltale symptoms of advanced lead poisoning. The symptoms were confirmed by a blood test, and we transported Condor 122 to the Phoenix Zoo the next day for treatment. The fact that Condor 122 was so obviously sick was worrying enough, but it was made even more so by the very recent deaths of two other condors exhibiting very similar symptoms. Condors 149 and 304 had received treatment at the Phoenix Zoo in February, but were returned to Vermilion Cliffs when they appeared to have recovered fully. Their condition deteriorated again, however, and they had to be taken back to the zoo. Sadly, they continued to decline even with supportive care, and both died. Condor 122 has survived thus far, and is currently recovering in a pen right beside Condor 134. The zoo veterinarians and technicians are doing everything they can to ensure that both of these birds make it, but the examples of Condors 149 and 304 show that there is no guarantee in such advanced cases.
While the deaths of two condors and the discovery of Condor 122’s lead exposure were upsetting for all of us, there were certainly bright spots in March as we continued our work. In addition to the continuation of breeding activity that we were able to observe, we were able to release six birds on 2 March. We typically invite the public to our spring release at the Vermilion Cliffs site, and the turnout this year was phenomenal! There were more than 200 observers and press present for the opening of the gate. We appreciate all those who made the trip, and we look forward to seeing you again next year. The excitement that you all show for the condors reminds us why we do what we do, even during the tougher times on the project. Thanks!
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