— 7 January 2008
— in California Condor Restoration
We closed out the month of November with eager eyes focused on the new Vermilion Cliffs’ chick, Condor 459, that was looking ready to take a first flight daily. But this active behavior continued, and currently continues, well beyond the assumed six-month fledge period when wild condors usually take to the wing. What separates this bird from all of our other timely fledges from the past, is the amount of structure in the immediate surrounding of the nest cave. The wall is filled with several large ledges, sandstone pinnacles, and steps that harbor the excitable behavior of this bird, as well as the close proximity of the release site that is giving the youngster frequent feeding from the two parent birds (male Condor 114 and female Condor 126), keeping the desire to travel and forage with mom and dad at a minimum. The young bird has been observed flapping and climbing all over the area, but no major controlled flights have been observed to date.
Bill Heinrich and crew transfer condors
to the field site atop the Vermilion Cliffs
We started December off by traveling north to our breeding facility in Boise, ID and transferring 10 new, previously unreleased condors to our field site atop the Vermilion Cliffs of Arizona. These new birds will be given time to acclimate to weather and familiarize themselves with the already free foraging birds that occasionally land near the holding pen, before they get released throughout the following year. Whenever we add more birds to the pen we must make room, and on 10 December we re-released three-year-old Condor 327 back out to the population from our release site, and she has yet to travel away since her release.
Breeding behavior has already begun with some of the birds. On 23 December, crew member Shaun Putz was able to observe the first documented breeding display from male Condor 223 to female Condor 253. Coincidentally, Shaun was watching these birds in the Colorado River corridor of Marble Canyon, just a few miles up-river from the assumed and unsuccessful nest cave location this pair showed interest in last spring during the breeding period. These two birds have spent the last four months in the Zion region of Southern Utah, and the fact that they traveled the great distance back to this very spot to begin displays and other breeding rituals, gives us great hope that they will make another attempt at reproducing again this year.
Maria Dominguez holding Condor 302
The last NFTF posted indicated that our field crew was attempting to trap up our entire population, as we do yearly, to perform a “check-up,” if you will. These trapping events allow us to replace old/non-functioning transmitters, give a quick health assessment of each bird, and most importantly— test each bird for blood lead levels. As each autumn passes, and this released population develops more of a routine in foraging and travel, we have noticed our trapping seasons become more and more difficult by the prolonged time the birds spend away from the trap site, as well as the overabundance of food available that keeps them away. In the long run this is good, almost perfect, in hopes of accomplishing the ultimate goal of a self-sustaining population, but until lead exposure to the birds through contaminated carrion is reduced by an even greater amount than it has been—this population would be sure to falter without the annual trapping and treatment the population receives.
Evan Buechley releasing healthy Condor 114
This fall our trap season was not looking so good, as we had yet to trap any birds well into December, and had only trapped a few condors by the second week of December. And then with the cooperation of a series of weather fronts passing through, along with the tenacity of our field crew in enduring long hours and focusing on the task at hand, we were able to trap up almost the entire 61 bird population in the following two weeks. In fact, at the time of writing we have only five targeted birds left to trap and test for the season.
Until next time. . .
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