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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
July 2008
Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration    Share
Nest cave of Condors 133 and 187.
Nest cave of Condors 133 and 187.
As the dust settles, and the 2008 breeding season for the condor project winds down, we now have a pretty good idea on which pairs have succeeded in hatching a young condor chick. I say “pretty good idea” because one of the current active nest caves in the Grand Canyon has such a small opening to the inside of the cave, we are unable to get any sort of visuals inside to confirm a young condor. But based on behavior, both Condors 133F and 187M are still visiting the inside of the cave daily, always with a full crop of carrion. The visits are quick, usually only lasting a few minutes, and then they depart from the small opening.

The other active nest cave, that of Condors 127F and 123M also deep in the Grand Canyon, is still active and being visited. In fact, on 16 July 2008 crewmember Matt Podolsky made the grueling 24-mile round-trip backpacking hike to try and get some better observations of the nesting pair. After watching through a scope and observing the pair visiting the cave a few times the first day, Matt hiked up to a higher vantage point on the canyon talus to get a better look inside the cave—and the hike paid off as Matt then observed the first visual to date on the young 95-day-old condor chick at the cave entrance!

Matt writes in his field notes of the observation, “the young chick is visible inside the nest cave, active by flapping its wings and mandibulating debris on the cave floor, especially an old feather that it has really taken a playful liking to.”

This marks the 8th condor produced in the wild by this released population since wild breeding began. The first chick was visually confirmed back in 2003, Condor 305, was produced by this same pair in the same nest cave. The pair also produced and fledged Condor 392 back in 2005 from the same nest cave as well.

 Condors 126 and 114's unhatched egg in nest cave.
Condors 126 and 114's unhatched egg in nest cave.
Unfortunately our other hopeful nesting attempts have resulted in failure for this nesting season. The veteran pair of Condors 126F and 114M in the Vermilion Cliffs started exhibiting less and less attention to their nest cave, which prompted us to climb in and take a look to answer some questions. Upon arrival to the cave entrance, crewmember Evan Buechley found an unhatched and intact condor egg on the cave floor. Because the egg was an estimated 26 days past its hatch date, we collected the egg and sent it in for fertility analysis. This being a year following a chick, this failed attempt was not too surprising.

Our other hopeful pair of nesting condors, 234M and 280F, were showing classic behavior for the stage in nesting that they should have been in, then just suddenly abandoned all visitation to the nest cave by foraging up in Southern Utah with the rest of the population, and not returning back to their Grand Canyon nest site. Because of several factors, we decided not to enter this nest cave after failure, especially with this being a first time pairing—a situation that we have noted rarely succeeds in hatching a chick in wild reproduction. We are hopeful that they will try again in the 2009 nesting season.

Condors feeding on sheep in Utah.
Condors feeding on sheep in Utah.
As the rainy monsoons encompass the range of the Arizona/Utah condor population, we have spent the majority of our time tracking the birds up in Utah. To date we have documented 57 different condors of our 64 bird free-flying population foraging in the Kolob range of Southern Utah at various times in the past month. We have documented 27 different non-proffered carcasses that the condors have found and fed upon during the month of July, with the majority of these being domestic free-ranging sheep in Utah. This trend continues year after year, with more and more birds traveling the distance to Utah, and staying for several months with no need to visit the proffered feeding site that we manage in the Vermilion Cliffs. We do still observe several birds traveling back and forth from the South Rim of Grand Canyon to Utah daily, but this is mainly credited to having breeding pairs that are searching for food much more frequently than the non-breeding birds, and having younger aged birds following along, since foraging in a group is much more advantageous. Until next time . . .

Condor 187 soaring.
Condor 187 soaring.

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