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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
California Condor update summer 2011
Eddie Feltes — in California Condor Restoration    Share

Here on the condor crew, we all revel in anticipation of that next major feat that these birds accomplish, or that profound next step in condor biology that we hadn't thought of, but may have just witnessed for the first time while wandering the hills of the high desert observing this species. Like the first egg laid in 2001, the first wild-fledging in 2003, the first condor nest located in an ancient Anasazi ruin back in 2005, or.. .well I could go on and on, but I won't. Despite all of these exciting things that we learn from this under-studied and reintroduced species, what always sticks- are the hardships. How many birds were lost, or how many nests failed, or how many birds were treated for lead-poisoning this season are the usual topics of conversation; and rightfully so. Lead is the one major roadblock that is halting a complete recovery of this species. There are always other avenues of species recovery that may need more exploration, but when we are talking California Condor, just about every aspect of this project is in some way, shape, or form related to managing around lead poisoning. In this past year we have recorded our highest losses of free-flying condors to date, with almost all of them due to lead poisoning. And for those that went missing during the months of highest lead-exposure- the harsh winter months following the big game hunting seasons, lead is a major suspect for those mortalities.

Condor trio nest with condor 610 at left and parent 193 on the right

But even in times of despair, these birds always manage to carry on and teach us what most that have worked with condors already know- that they are a truly resilient and magnificent species to observe and work with. This past lead season proved to be one of our worst, but we followed up with our best breeding production for the wild population. We currently have, for the first time ever, 3 wild chicks being tended to by parents. One in particular really stands out as one of those “firsts” that we get satisfaction in recording. The now famous “Trio” nesting pair/group compromised of adult condors 193M, 241F, and 243M have drafted the disdain back in our faces from being that obnoxious group that is never going to successfully breed until they figure out this ‘2 condor male/female thing’ has pulled it off. All three birds shared equal incubation duties, have shared equal time feeding the chick, equal time guarding the nest cave, and still to this day are tending to the now historical young condor SB#610. This is a 3-dimensional 1st by being the first ever successful raising of a chick by a trio of birds in both wild or captive populations of condors (a trio of condors hatched an egg in the wilds of CA in the past but never reared it past 7-10 days by lack of feeding it); the first ever chick to hatch on the Kaibab Plateau in AZ, and the first 600 level studbook bird in our population (the latter lacks true importance, but to us condor folk, it is fun to point out). This nesting location is in a very accessible location for our biologists to observe, making the whole process that much more significant by allowing us to document every stage from egg to fledging (said with fingers crossed).

We have another first time successful nesting pair that we have been hopeful and pulling for during the past few years, that consists of 280F and 234M. These two are still tending to an active nest cave below the South Rim of Grand Canyon Natl. Park, and although we have not yet been able to observe an actual chick, all behavior suggests that the pair is raising a now 90+ day-old chick. Both birds are being observed foraging over a 100 square mile area and always returning back to the nest cave after cropping up to feed the suspected chick.

Portrait of Condor 296. Photo by Chris Parish

The veteran pairing of 133F and 187M have bounced back from 133’s near tragic lead poisoning event the year prior that almost killed her, to producing their second wild chick also deep in the Grand Canyon interior. This suspected chick has also not yet been observed, mainly due to the very secluded location of the nest cave cavity, despite its location being visible from the South Rim. But just like 280/234- this pair is being observed entering the nest cave after feeding and exiting a short time after, which is classic behavior of a pair feeding an estimated 105 day-old chick. So stay tuned for the reporting of our first visuals on these closely watched nests.

Coming up on 24-September-2011 we will be carrying out our 17th annual Public Condor Release from the Vermilion Cliffs in Northern Arizona. We will be releasing 3 first-time releases at 11am. Come join us and observe this fantastic event, and visit our website for more information and directions. For those of you using Facebook, please visit and “Like” our new Facebook page:Condor Cliffs, that has frequent postings from our staff and field crew that includes spectacular photos, videos, and anything condor from our population in AZ and UT.

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