Eddie Feltes— 12 April 2007 — in California Condor Restoration ShareGreetings NFTF readers! As always in condor country, March of 2007 has been a very active month both for the wild population and the field crew monitoring them. This, due in part to the intense breeding behavior of older birds in addition to crew having new birds to monitor from our recent annual release.
On 3 March we released seven condors, three of which were released for the first time ever, and four more were re-releases all from our temporary holding pen high atop the Vermilion Cliffs. This is a very crucial event, for newly-released condors and field crew alike. Although we make sure the birds are exposed to as many wild, environmental conditions as possible prior to release, we house and monitor them in a temporary holding pen (release pen) several days before setting them free. Nothing replicates wild scenarios better than taking to the air and experiencing freedom as it comes.
Much to the delight of nearly one hundred sets of eager eyes watching from the valley floor, seven condors took to the air without a hitch. This is a critical time in the life of a young, newly-released condor, as it has to cope with several elements that the captive birds do not experience. The most important being awareness of predators, i.e. Golden Eagles defending nesting territories, and ground dwelling predators like coyotes. This is where the field crew monitoring the new cohort must be at their best in both observation of roosting locations and daily travel of individual condors. Luckily for the crew, this cohort of young condors caught on to the rigors of being a free bird very quickly, bringing the number of free-flying condors to 58!
As you read in February’s NFTF, Arizona condor breeding season was picking up, and March puts it in full swing! The nest cave site that contains the confirmed egg of Condors 133 and 158 has been quite the active one in the last few weeks. The pair is using a cave location that is on a beautiful rock face containing great nesting habitat for several avian species. In the past we have observed Golden Eagles, ravens, and Peregrine Falcons all setting up nest site territories in the same general location. This year is no exception, and based on close observations, we believe that Condor 195 has also laid an egg in a hidden crack-like cave in the same wall as Condor 133, and just a few hundred meters away.
As we have seen before, it is not too uncommon for California Condor pairs to attract the interest of other potential breeding age condors as they exhibit their breeding rituals and travel to potential nesting locations. The activity of this already established pair was just too much for Condor 195 to ignore.
Unfortunately, based on past observations of similar nesting situations, this usually ends up in failure based on too much distraction of the pair trying to maintain a regular incubation schedule. This was the first time we have had two female condors lay respective eggs in close proximity to one another involving the same male.
As if that was not enough there is also a pair of Peregrine Falcons nesting for the second consecutive year in the area. It can be discouraging, when looked upon by us, to see potential for nesting failure in the wild population of condors that we work so hard to facilitate success; but we also must understand nature and what being a wild condor truly means. We can only hope that this pair will seek out a new, less active nesting site, and younger Condor 195 will seek out a new mate that is exclusive to her, ensuring greater success in recruitment of wild hatched condors into the already established population.
On a more positive note, the observations from project field biologist Roger Benefield on 16 March suggest that Condor pair 127/123 have started incubation on an egg in a nest cave deep in the Grand Canyon. Some of you may recall that this is the pair that fledged wild Condor 305 in 2003, and Condor 392 in 2005—both from the same nest cave. But this year the pair has chosen a new site that is located in a deep drainage a few miles east of the previously used cave. At the time of writing the pair is switching out incubation duties right on schedule, increasing our hopes of Condors 127 and 123 contributing their third wild hatched condor to the Arizona population.
We are also expecting two more pairs to lay eggs any day now that have already proven breeding success over the past few years, and two more potential nesting attempts by pairs that appear to be giving it a go for the first time this year! So hopefully in next month’s NFTF I will have some news to share.
We would like to take this time to honor the dedicated work of the Peregrine Fund’s Condor Project field manager Thomas Lord. I have worked with Thom for the past three and a half years on this project, and together we have shared many moments during the high and occasional low points that go into recovering an endangered species to a region such as this. Thom’s positive impact and accomplishments toward this program are too much to list here. Thom has decided to move on to pursue new goals that I know he will have no problem in accomplishing. Your work will be missed, but we wish you the best. Good luck Thom!
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