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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
March 2008
Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration    ShareGreetings NFTF readers! The month of March has been a productive one for the project here in Arizona. To date we have had five females lay eggs, we released four new condors into the wild population, and we were able to catch the first visual on wild-produced Condor 441 since September 2007.

Our first pair to lay an egg this year was the annual pairing of 13-year-old female Condor 127 with 13-year-old male Condor 123. This pair produced Condor 305 back in 2003, Condor 392 in 2005, and has resorted back to using the same nest cave deep in the red-wall layer of Grand Canyon National Park that they fledged their two previous chicks from. With a lay date on 19 February 2008, these two have been making consistent incubation switches averaging every six days, and are hopefully due to hatch their third young condor in just two weeks.

The second pair to lay an egg was the first time pairing of 12-year-old female Condor 133 and 10-year-old male Condor 187 on 25 February 2008, also deep in the Grand Canyon interior. The pair kept making routine flights away from the release site for multiple days, then returning back as a mystery to their exact locations while gone. With just conventional telemetry on each bird, we needed more information that could lead us to a new potential nesting territory, so we placed a GPS transmitter on male Condor 187 as the breeding season was starting to peak. This information allowed us to narrow down an approximate location deep in the canyon that would require more than one backpacking trip by our crew to pin-point the exact nest cave once a lay date was determined. These two have been previously documented producing two eggs each with different mates in years past, and continue to impress us all with veteran nesting behavior that includes intense foraging behavior and travel, routine incubation switching, and brief incubation breaks that all may add up to the pair producing their first nestling, so keep your fingers crossed!

With female Condor 133 now paired up with a very dominant male Condor 187, the pairing of nine-year-old female Condor 195 with dominant 11-year-old male Condor 158 has been solidified. This pair was part of a trio with Condor 133 last year that resulted in the failure of the egg Condor 133 laid, and the failure of the suspected egg of Condor 195. But now with attention focused exclusively on each other, Condor 195 laid an egg on 14 March 2008 that has made it two weeks so far despite the nest cave’s very close proximity to the release site in the Vermilion Cliffs. In fact, 15 March proved to be the most productive day of the month as we believe two other eggs were laid on the same day, one from the pairing of 13-year-old female Condor 126 and 13-year-old male Condor 114, as well as the first time pairing and nesting attempt of 11-year-old male Condor 162 with six-year-old female Condor 281.

Nest cave of Condors 126 and 114.
Nest cave of Condors 126 and 114.
Condors 126 and 114 were not due to nest until next year, as they were still feeding young Condor 459 that they fledged this past fall, but behavior started to turn as both birds begun aggressively chasing the youngster out of the natal area each time the bird would try and land near the nest cave. One-year-old Condor 459 also starting feeding without the aid of the parent birds at carcasses on 6 March with the rest of the wild population at the release site, furthering our suspicions of another egg on its way. Sure enough, on 15 March, Condor 126 remained toward the nest cave location with a quiet, steady telemetry signal received all day, as her mate, Condor 114, roosted away from her at the release site with the other birds for the first time in weeks. All seemed to be going well until just ten days after the lay date, when both Condors 126 and 114 flew around together for hours leaving the newly-laid egg unattended, and roosted for the evening together at the release site; indicating positive failure of the nesting attempt.

The next morning I climbed into the newly abandoned nest cave in the Vermilion Cliffs, and found and collected the fresh remains of a broken egg that had been rolled from the safety of the cave floor onto the exposed outer porch of the nest cave. Though it resulted in failure, this nesting attempt was our first recorded back-to-back nesting attempt in a spring following the successful fledging of a young condor by the same pair. Male Condor 114 has fledged two chicks in two consecutive years in 2004 and 2005, but with two different females.

Condor soaring in front of the moon.
Condor soaring in front of the moon.
The third egg laid in the same day was that of Condors 281 and 162 also in the Vermilion Cliffs. This first time pair failed during their third incubation switch just seven days after the assumed lay date of female Condor 281. Unfortunately the exact nest cave location of this pair was never found in time to be able to execute a post nest failure entry to try and confirm the laying of an egg by this first time pair, but based on behavior and telemetry/GPS locations, we have every reason to believe that this pair was tending to an egg briefly before abandonment.

Our 12th annual public condor release was held on 15 March 2008 from our Vermilion Cliffs release site. Under the watchful eyes of approximately 100 spectators, the release pen opened at 11am, adding four new birds to the established population. The new birds were three-year-old female Condor 367, three-year-old female Condor 381, two-year-old female Condor 404, and two-year-old male Condor 420. Coincidentally Condors 367, 404, and 420 were all produced at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon, and were the first condors that we have released here that have been produced in captivity from the Oregon Zoo; and Condor 381 was produced in Boise. All four birds have integrated into the flock nicely and are doing great. The addition of these four brings the free-flying population to 65 birds, and with 15 more awaiting release, we currently have 80 condors present in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah! Hopefully next month we will have a few new wild-produced birds to add to the population. . .

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