The California Condor Recovery Program reached a new milestone with the hatching of a condor chick in the Sierra San Pedro de Mártir National Park in Baja California, Mexico. San Diego Zoo field biologists rappelled 330 feet down a rocky cliff on Tuesday to vaccinate the chick against West Nile Virus.
Mike Wallace, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo‘s Institute for Conservation Research wildlife scientist and California Condor Recovery Program team leader, said the chick is approximately 45 days old.
“Our efforts to save this species are long and often arduous,” said Wallace. “Still, nothing is more rewarding than the arrival of a chick from reintroduced birds breeding in the wild. The 45-day-old chick is the most successful effort by our growing population in Baja California so far.”
The chick is only the second California condor to hatch in Mexico since the San Diego Zoo reintroduced this critically endangered species to the area in 2002. A different condor breeding pair hatched the first chick in 2007, but the chick disappeared from the nest one month later and was never found.
“This is an example of collaboration between Mexico and the United States to conserve biological diversity along the border region between our two countries,” said Eduardo Peters, Ph.D., Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Ecología director general of research of ecology and conservation of ecosystems. “The Instituto Nacional de Ecología has been persistent in continuing the project in Mexico by coordinating the Mexican institutions participating in this binational effort. The goal is to create a self-sustaining California condor population and thus repopulating their historic range.”
Prior to the 2002 reintroduction of this species, the last documented wild California condor in Mexico was spotted in the late 1930s. The California Condor
Recovery Program joined forces with the Mexican government to reintroduce this species to its native habitat in the pristine mountain range.
Condors reach breeding age at 5 years old. The condors in Baja California are just reaching maturity. Wallace believes additional pairs may begin to breed and lay eggs in 2010. An egg hatches after 57 days of incubation. The emerging chick is born with light gray feathers and a pink bald head. Its feathers begin to darken as it ages and by 6 months old when it takes its first flight, it is fully grown with black and white feathers and a black head. The chick remains under the watchful eye of its parents for another two years. When it reaches maturity the birds head turns pink once again.
The California Condor Recovery Program is implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, zoos in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as U.S. and Mexican government agencies such as the Instituto Nacional de Ecología and non-governmental organizations including WiLDCOAST. The world population of California condors is now approximately 350 birds, more than half of which are flying free in the skies above California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico. Although listed by the federal government as an endangered species in 1967, the California condor population continued to decline reaching a critical low of less than two dozen birds and in 1982 the condor breeding program was successfully established at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoo. Today, two additional breeding centers are assisting with the recovery of the species at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey and the Oregon Zoo.
The 100-acre San Diego Zoo is dedicated to the conservation of endangered species and their habitats. The organization focuses on conservation and research work around the globe, educates millions of individuals a year about wildlife and maintains accredited horticultural, animal, library and photo collections. The Zoo also manages the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, which includes a 900-acre native species reserve, and the San Diego Zoos Institute for Conservation Research™. The important conservation and science work of these entities is supported in part by The Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego.
The California Condor Recovery Program reached a new milestone with the hatching of a condor chick in the Sierra San Pedro de Mártir National Park in Baja California, Mexico. San Diego Zoo field biologists rappelled 330 feet down a rocky cliff on Tuesday to vaccinate the chick against West Nile Virus.
Big Sur, California – Biologists at the Ventana Wildlife Society released condor No. 375 on Friday, May 1 from its condor sanctuary in Big Sur, California. This release marks the return of one of two condors that were gunshot and lead-poisoned this past March.
“We are extremely pleased to see condor No. 375 flying free in Big Sur once again because that’s where she belongs,” said Joe Burnett, Ventana Wildlife Society senior wildlife biologist.
Condor 375 was monitored over the weekend and she has been doing well since her release. The 4-year old juvenile female, was trapped by Ventana Wildlife Society biologists in Big Sur on March 26 for a routine blood-lead test. Biologists soon learned she had a very high lead value and was suffering from lead poisoning.
The ailing condor was transferred to the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic in Monterey to undergo a medical exam by veterinarian, Amy Wells, DVM. X-rays taken by Wells revealed three shotgun pellets embedded in her tissue, two in the wing and one in the thigh. This was an unexpected discovery which was unrelated to condor 375′s lead poisoning condition.
Condor 375 was given medicine to counteract the lead poisoning and then immediately transferred from Monterey to the Los Angeles Zoo for recovery. During her treatment it was determined that the gunshot wounds would not cause her any long-term physical impairment and her lead levels were brought down successfully after three weeks on a vigorous treatment schedule of once daily injections that removed lead from her bloodstream.
Condor No. 286, the other gunshot and lead-poisoned condor, is still recovering at the Los Angeles Zoo from his severe exposure to lead and his condition is still very much “critical.” Condor 286, an adult male, was captured in early March by biologists with Ventana Wildlife Society when it was determined that he was suffering from a severe case of lead-poisoning. He was transferred to undergo treatment at the Zoo’s animal hospital. When radio-graphed by veterinary staff they discovered 15 shotgun pellets lodged in his wing and body, also unrelated to the lead-poisoning condition.
“Luckily, the pellets didn’t cause any long-term physical impairment to condor 286, but his battle with lead poisoning is far from over,” said Burnett. “We are still unsure whether he will ever return to the wild and reunite with his mate (condor No. 303), as his survival is in the balance.”
As a result of these two condor shootings, a $40,000 reward was assembled thanks to Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the United States and Ventana Wildlife Society donors.
“We don’t yet know what leads, if any, have been generated from this reward so far but we certainly hope that the person or persons responsible are caught and punished accordingly,” said Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society executive director.
The endangered California condor is the largest land bird in North America, weighing as much as 25 pounds and possessing a nine and half foot wingspan. California condors do not kill their food; they are obligate scavengers, eating carcasses they find during long soaring flights. Condor’s are nature’s recyclers and play a very important role in keeping the environment free of diseased animal carrion.
Condors are often poisoned when they ingest lead bullet fragments left behind in gunshot carcasses and gut piles in the field. In July 2008, California changed hunting regulations to require hunters in the condor’s range to use only non-lead ammunition. Information on the new regulations can be found on the California Department of Fish and Game’s Web site at: http://ent.groundspring.org/EmailNow/pub.php?module=URLTracker&cmd=track&j=275249513&u=2988305
Biologists have been working for decades to reestablish California condors to the wild. From a population low of just 22 condors in 1982, there are now 322 of these critically endangered birds. About half are flying free in the wilds of California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja Mexico. Although the population has grown, the species remains endangered primarily due to preventable threats. Direct shooting of condors is one such threat.
Ventana Wildlife Society is the only non-profit organization releasing and monitoring California condors in California. Ventana Wildlife Society began condor releases in Big Sur in 1997 and then initiated a second release site in 2003 at Pinnacles National Monument in collaboration with the National Parks Service. Currently, Ventana Wildlife Society and the National Parks Service monitor a flock of 48 wild condors in Central California, more than half the population for California, which is currently 86 birds.
Second Nest Suspected in Sierra San Pedro de Martir
Wearing a backpack filled with candling equipment and a harness, Juan Vargas, San Diego Zoo field biologist, rappelled 330 feet down a rocky cliff on the hunt for a rare and precious egg in Mexico’s wilderness.
On Wednesday, April 8, Vargas braved the heights and found the precious egg nestled in a cavity in the Sierra San Pedro de Martir National Park in Baja California, Mexico. It is only the third egg to be laid by a California condor in Mexico since the San Diego Zoo reintroduced this critically endangered species to the area in 2002.
Documenting the egg search from another cliff, Mike Wallace, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research scientist and California Condor Recovery Program team leader, said this condor pair laid an egg in the same nest in 2008, but the egg did not hatch.
“We suspected condor No. 284 laid an egg when she and her partner began making frequent trips to the area of the cave,” said Wallace. “We were excited when it was confirmed that the egg was fertile and may hatch in a couple of weeks.
The first condor pair, No. 261 and 217, to lay an egg in Mexico is also suspected of having an egg. If confirmed, this would be a historic event for conservation efforts. Prior to the 2002 reintroduction of this bird the last documented wild California condor in Mexico was spotted in the late 1930s. The California Condor Recovery Program joined forces with the Mexican government to reintroduce this species to its native habitat in the pristine mountain range where 15 condors now fly free.
The pair’s first egg was laid in 2007, but the chick disappeared from the nest one month later and was never found.
Condors reach breeding age at 5 years old. The condors in Baja California are just reaching maturity. Wallace believes additional pairs may begin to breed and lay eggs in 2010. An egg hatches after 57 days of incubation. A chick takes its first flight at approximately 6 months old, but it remains under the watchful eye of its parents for another two years.
The California Condor Recovery Program is implemented by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, zoos in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as U.S. and Mexican government agencies such as the Instituto Nacional de Ecología and NGOs. The world population of California condors is now more than 320 birds, half of which are flying free in the skies above California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico. The condor breeding centers include the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo, The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey and Oregon Zoo.
The 100-acre San Diego Zoo is dedicated to the conservation of endangered species and their habitats. The organization focuses on conservation and research work around the globe, educates millions of individuals a year about wildlife and maintains accredited horticultural, animal, library and photo collections. The Zoo also manages the 1,800-acre San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, which includes a 900-acre native species reserve, and the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. The important conservation and science work of these entities is supported in part by The Foundation of the Zoological Society of San Diego.
Lead Poisoned and Gunshot:
Central Coast Condor Emblematic of Current Impediments to Recovery
March 13, 2009
Although they are one of the most endangered birds on the planet, California condors are still facing avoidable threats to their survival. As a case in point, as one California condor began emergency treatment for lead poisoning, it was discovered the bird also had shotgun pellets embedded in his body from a gunshot wound. Currently, the bird is fighting for his life at the Los Angeles Zoo.
During the week of January 21, condor No. 286 (all California condors are assigned a studbook number), a nearly 7-year-old male, went from being high in the pecking order of the central California coast condor flock to getting pushed around by much younger, less dominant birds. When 286 went from making courtship displays to female condors to getting beat up by adolescent birds, wildlife biologists from Pinnacles National Monument and Ventana Wildlife Society knew something wasn’t right. A sudden shift in behavior by 286 was an indication the bird may have health problems.
“We had been trying to capture him since late January because of signs of weakness and poor health,” said Joe Burnett Ventana Wildlife Society biologist. Upon capture on March 4, biologists noted the condor was wobbly on his feet. Testing revealed a high lead level in his blood, indicating potentially fatal lead exposure. Condor biologists immediately transferred the bird to the Los Angeles Zoo for lead poisoning treatment.
To see photos of this condor visit http://www.ventanaws.org/condor286/.
While at the Zoo, 286 was radiographed and the shotgun pellets were discovered. Once lead treatment has been completed, Zoo veterinarians plan to extract the pellets to determine the type of ammunition.
“We are extremely grateful the bird is still alive, but dismayed this innocent condor was both lead poisoned and gunshot,” said Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society executive director.
“Whoever shot the condor should not be seen as a representative of the hunting community. No self-respecting hunter would do this,” said Jerry Marquez, a central California hunter. “The average hunter is conservation minded and wants to preserve the resource for future generations, not destroy it. Shooting the condor was an act of pure stupidity.”
The act of harming an endangered species is also a federal felony. Condor 286′s injuries and resulting removal from the wild were a significant setback in achieving the goal of establishing breeding pairs of condors in the wild. Reproduction of wild offspring is a necessary step toward removing condors from the Endangered Species List.
“We were anticipating a breeding attempt by condor 286 this year, so this unfortunate event is a real setback to the flock,” said Sorenson.
While unrelated to the shotgun pellets, condor 286′s lead exposure may have occurred from ingestion of lead bullet fragments found in animal carcasses or gut piles. Condors are scavengers, only eating dead animals. In July 2008, California changed hunting regulations to require hunters in the condor’s range to use only non-lead ammunition. Information on the new regulations can be found on the California Department of Fish and Game’s website at: www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/condor/
Condor biologists see ranching and big game hunting as critical to the survival of the endangered birds.
“Open space with an occasional dead large mammal is the kind of landscape condors live in,” said Daniel George, condor program manager at Pinnacles National Monument. “Ranchers and hunters that use non-lead ammunition play a key role in maintaining a healthy landscape for condors and other wildlife.”
“The plight of condor 286 illustrates the California condor’s continued struggle for survival,” said Jesse Grantham, California Condor Recovery Program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We need to continue to focus on sources of lead in the environment and eliminate that threat to both humans and wildlife.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the lead federal partner in the multi-agency California Condor Recovery Program. Release programs are located in Central and Southern California, Baja California, Mexico, and Arizona. Currently, California is home to two separate California condor flocks. The central coast flock, located around Big Sur and Pinnacles National Monument, and the Southern California flock, located in and around the Los Padres National Forest, north of Los Angeles and east of Ventura.
Ventana Wildlife Society: In California alone there are 130 species of animals in the wild threatened or endangered with extinction. Ventana Wildlife Society is committed to conserving native wildlife and their habitats. Ventana Wildlife Society released 70 Bald Eagles to central California in the 1980′s and 90′s and began reintroducing California Condors in 1997. Rather than dwelling on past mistakes that brought many of our wild animals to the brink, we focus on the present. We recover individual species and track the populations of many others so that conservation can be timely as well as effective. Focusing on youth education, we better ensure that future generations have the willingness and capacity to help wildlife. Our vision is to have a society who cares for and supports wildlife across the planet, particularly in California. Online at http://ent.groundspring.org/EmailNow/pub.php?module=URLTracker&cmd=track&j=266446724&u=2854815
Ventana Wildlife Society, 831-455-9514
Now available online: “Ingestion of Lead from Spent Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans”
BOISE, Idaho — Research on the effects and risks of lead exposure from spent bullet fragments and shot is now available online.
The documents are proceedings from the conference, “Ingestion of Lead from Spent Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans,” convened May 12-15, 2008, by The Peregrine Fund, Boise State University, Tufts Center for Conservation Medicine, and the US Geological Survey. The conference for the first time brought together professionals in wildlife and human health to share information on the toxic effects of this source of lead contamination.
Conference attendees offered a relatively easy solution: switch to non-lead bullets and shot. Such ammunition is available in most popular calibers and is considered by many hunters to be as good as or better than traditional lead ammunition. Experts said manufacturers will respond to demand, thus solving the problem.
Individual papers may be downloaded at:
An overwhelming weight of evidence presented at the conference shows that:
· Lead is toxic. It sickens and can kill at high levels of exposure, but even near the lowest detectable levels, lead has measurable health effects, including reduced IQ in children and increased risk of death from heart attack and stroke in adults.
· Lead from spent ammunition gets into people who eat game harvested with lead bullets or shot, with clinical effects among subsistence hunters. Effects among recreational hunters have not been adequately studied.
· Lead from spent ammunition gets into a wide variety of wildlife, including doves, swans, eagles, condors, and mammalian scavengers, regularly sickening and killing some.
· Non-lead bullets and shot are available as an alternative to lead for most uses.
The roughly 400 pages of the proceedings consist of more than 60 contributions from scientists and professionals in the fields of wildlife, health, and shooting sports. The conference documented evidence from around the world of:
· Effects of lead poisoning on wildlife that consume lead bullet fragments or lead shot when they forage.
· Lead exposure in people who eat game harvested with lead-based bullets or shot.
· Effects of lead on human health at minute levels that were formerly thought benign and currently are not recognized by many health agencies.
· Lead bullet fragmentation in game meat, extent of contamination of game meat from bullet fragments, and the potential for human exposure to lead from this source.
· Solutions to the problem of lead exposure from bullet fragments in both wildlife and people, with practical examples from Arizona and California where voluntary and legislative measures have been implemented on behalf of the California condor, and from Germany and Japan on behalf of sea-eagles and human health concerns.
· Exposure to lead from other sources including fishing tackle, paints, and ceramics having significant negative health effects on wildlife and people.
The Peregrine Fund, a conservation group for birds of prey, convened the conference after a decade of research on wild California condors in the Grand Canyon region of Arizona revealed that lead exposure from spent ammunition is the most important factor impeding the full recovery of the species in the area. The research also suggested that lead from spent ammunition could be a concern to people who eat game harvested with lead bullets or shot shells.
Efforts by the Arizona Game and Fish Department to encourage hunters to voluntarily reduce lead exposure of condors influenced 90 percent of hunters in the 2008 hunting season to use solid copper bullets as an alternative to lead-based ammunition or remove all remains of their harvest from the landscape. As a result, no condors died from lead poisoning this season.
“If this result can be achieved throughout the condor’s range, our data shows that condors could survive in the wild without the intensive and expensive management needed now to combat lead poisoning,” said Dr. Grainger Hunt, a scientist for The Peregrine Fund and contributor to the conference proceedings.
Meriwether, Nootka and Atya ready to fly free in Arizona
PORTLAND, Ore. — Three California condors from the Oregon Zoo will be released into the Vermilion Cliffs Monument in northern Arizona March 7, soaring into the open skies that will finally be their home.
Meriwether (No. 379), Nootka (No. 447) and Atya (No. 455) were hatched and raised at the Zoo before being transferred to the Peregrine Fund‘s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, to prepare for their release. Meriwether was transferred in January 2007, Nootka and Atya in October 2008.
This trio will be the second group of Oregon Zoo condors released in the 293,000-acre Arizona monument. They will join Tatoosh (No. 367), Ursa (No. 404) and Wiley (No. 420), who were successfully released in March 2008.
“With every successful condor release we’re another step closer to seeing condors fly over the skies of Oregon,” said Tony Vecchio, Zoo director. “One day Oregonians may again see what Lewis and Clark saw as they traveled along the Columbia River over 200 years ago.”
This will be the 14th release of condors in Arizona since the Peregrine Fund began its recovery program in 1996. Currently, 67 condors are flying free in Arizona, including two wild-hatched chicks that left their nests in the Grand Canyon in December.
“These monumental strides give us great hope for the survival of this species,” Vecchio said.
Condors, the largest land birds in North America, have wingspans of up to 10 feet and weigh 18 to 30 pounds. They are highly intelligent and inquisitive, often engaging in play. Their range extended across much of North America during the Pleistocene era, which ended about 10,000 years ago. By 1940, that range had been reduced to the coastal mountains of Southern California, and in 1967 condors were added to the first federal list of endangered species. In 1987, the 17 condors remaining in the wild were brought into captivity and a captive-breeding program was developed. The world’s total population of endangered condors flying free in the wild is 169 in Arizona, California and Mexico.
The Oregon Zoo’s condor recovery efforts take place at the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, located in rural Clackamas County on Metro-owned open space. The remoteness of the facility minimizes the exposure of young condors to people, increasing the chances for captive-hatched birds to survive and breed in the wild.
The center is currently home to 31 condors and has produced 15 eggs since it was established. Of the 15 eggs produced, 14 chicks have survived.
In 2001, the Oregon Zoo became the third zoo in the nation to join the California Condor Recovery Program. California condor captive-breeding programs are also operated at San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey. The Oregon Zoo was the recipient of the Wildlife Society’s Conservation Award for creating the nation’s fourth California condor breeding facility in April 2005.
The Oregon zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission to inspire the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the Zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Washington’s pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot butterflies, western pond turtles, Oregon spotted frogs and Kincaid’s lupine. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
The Zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Zoo visitors are encouraged to ride MAX or take TriMet bus No. 63. Visitors who take the bus or MAX receive $1 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.
General admission is $9.75 (12-64), seniors $8.25 (65+), children $6.75 (3-11), and infants 2 and under are free; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $2 per car is also required. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.
# # #
Oregon Zoo ” 4001 SW Canyon Rd. ” Portland, Oregon 97221 ” 503-226-1561 ” www.oregonzoo.org
Contacts: Bill LaMarche 503-220-2448 or 503-497-5812 (pager)
Linda D’Ae-Smith 503-220-5716 or 503-441-7573 (pager)
For Immediate Release:
December 22, 2008
Big Sur, California
Biologists from Ventana Wildlife Society‘s condor recovery project in Big Sur made a grim discovery on Sunday, Dec. 21. They found the lifeless body of a wild California Condor chick lying in thick brush beneath a tall stand of redwoods, only one half mile from it’s coastal nest site. The wild male chick, known as No. 475, was recently observed making short flights in the nest area, which is normal behavior for a 9-month-old condor. Condor No. 475 was wearing a radio tag that alerted biologists there was trouble when it began emitting a mortality signal on the morning of Dec. 21. Ventana Wildlife Society biologists, Mike Tyner and Jessica Koning, tracked the signal through thick brush into a very steep coastal ravine and finally located the chick lying motionless on the ground. Condor No. 475 will be examined more closely at San Diego Zoo‘s pathology lab. The cause of death is unknown at this time.
Condor 475 is one of three wild chicks produced by the wild condor flock in Big Sur this year. The other two surviving wild chicks, No. 470 and No. 477, continue to grow strong and are a little further along in development.
“It’s always very difficult to lose such a young condor like #475. We really wish all of the chicks could make it”, commented Joe Burnett, Ventana Wildlife Society senior wildlife biologist.
Last year the Big Sur flock produced two wild condor chicks and one survived, which is expected naturally, a 50 percent survival rate for condor chicks in the wild. This year three chicks were raised in wild nests and two are still alive.
“While the loss of a wild chick is never easy, we still feel very fortunate to have two of the three chicks surviving in the wild this year,” said Kelly Sorenson, Ventana Wildlife Society executive director.
Ventana Wildlife Society biologists believe that there could be as many as four wild condor chicks just in Big Sur in 2009. The condor population reached an all-time low of 22 in 1982. Through captive breeding and subsequent releases, the total condor population now stands at 326. In central California, there are 47 free-flying condors (three of which are wild-born).
A message from the executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society:
We are excited to share with you a video update on our progress to rebuild our Condor Sanctuary in Big Sur. To all of you who have supported us through this challenging time, we want to thank you and hope that you watch the video and share it with others. We want to especially thank Oakland Zoo, Oregon Zoo, San Diego Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Pinnacles National Monument, and US Fish and Wildlife Service as well as REI, Inc., Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, West Valley Bird Society, South Bay Bird Society, BBR, LLP, Mountain Tools and the many individuals who contributed to the Condor Emergency Fund.
In 2009, we will continue rebuilding the Sanctuary and will work to ensure the safety of wild condor chicks and the entire flock as a whole. We will continue to protect the birds from threats such as lead poisoning. Our ultimate goal is to return the condor to the wild so that they can survive on their own again. As of today, there are 327 condors living and over half of those are in the wild. In fact, for the first time in the history of the recovery effort there are now more condors in the wild than in captivity.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 16, 2008
The Peregrine Fund
BOISE, Idaho – Two California Condor chicks fledged from their nests in the Grand Canyon in December, bringing the world’s population of endangered California Condors now flying free in the wild to 169. This is the first year that there are more condors flying free than are in captivity for breeding purposes.
“This shows that we are making real progress in bringing this ecologically significant bird back from the brink of extinction,” said Bill Heinrich, who oversees the condor recovery program for The Peregrine Fund, a Boise-based conservation organization for birds of prey. “I am thrilled that these two chicks appear to be doing well and I hope they will survive to become productive members of the flock.”
Currently, the total number of California Condors is 327, with 158 in captivity. Of the 169 condors in the wild, 67 are in Arizona and 83 are in California. There also are 19 California Condors flying free in Mexico. The goal is to produce at least 150 members in each of the U.S. populations, including at least 15 breeding pairs.
The Peregrine Fund breeds and produces condors at its World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise and releases them to the wild in northern Arizona. Eight wild condor chicks also hatched this year in California, where a geographically separate population is being produced by zoos, along with The Peregrine Fund.
California Condors are some of the world’s rarest birds. Their numbers had dropped to just 22 individuals when the recovery program began in the 1980s. Because condors eat carrion, they help fulfill the role that scavengers play in the environment by consuming dead animal carcasses that might otherwise spread disease and foul land and water resources.
The Grand Canyon chicks, which hatched in May, were produced by two sets of condor parents nesting in the canyon’s remote ledges and caves. The chicks were first observed testing their wings with short flights in September and October. One of the chicks was produced by the same adult pair that in 2003 hatched the first wild condor chick in the Grand Canyon in more than 100 years. The other chick belongs to first-time parents. The adult female is the last bird remaining from the group that was released when the Arizona
recovery program began in 1996.
This month’s fledglings make a total of nine wild chicks hatched in the Grand Canyon since 1996. Eight are still alive.
The largest survival challenge facing the two new chicks and all condors is lead poisoning from lost or unretrieved remains of animals shot with lead ammunition, Heinrich said. The Peregrine Fund works with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and local hunting groups on an awareness campaign that has produced a dramatic increase in the number of hunters who voluntarily switch to copper bullets or other non-lead alternatives in condor country, with a corresponding drop in condor deaths due to lead poisoning.
“We are grateful to all the hunters who are valued partners in restoring California Condors to their historic range,” Heinrich said.
Nevertheless, every condor must be captured twice each year and tested for
lead poisoning. Because they are social eaters, it is possible for just one carcass to poison several birds. Condors are treated with chelation, a process that removes lead from a bird’s body, and re-released to the wild. None treated this year have yet died from lead poisoning.
“Until we significantly reduce the amount of lead they are exposed to, we will never have a self-sustaining population of condors,” Heinrich said. “We look forward to the day when they no longer need us to survive.”
Did you know?
* Prior to reintroduction, the last wild condor in Arizona was sighted just south of the Grand Canyon in 1924.
* Condors reach maturity at about six years of age. They usually produce one egg every other year.
* Recovery and reintroduction cooperators include The Peregrine Fund, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A wonderful experience awaits bird lovers. Two juvenile California condors will be released at Pinnacles National Monument in Monterey County at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 1. The public can witness the first free flight of these birds from a viewing area located approximately three-quarters of a mile from the release site. Even if you’ve seen a condor in flight, seeing a juvenile bird spread its wings and use thermals to maneuver its new surroundings for the first time is an unforgettable moment. And at moments a bit comedic!
These condors were hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey, two of the four California Condor Recovery Program’s breeding centers. The San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park and Oregon Zoo make up the other two breeding sites.
The release will take place on the east side of Pinnacles National Monument off of Highway 25. Shuttle services from designated parking areas will transport guests to within 1.5 miles of the viewing area. The National Park Service suggests bringing spotting scopes, binoculars, water, layered clothing, and good hiking shoes, and carpooling is recommended, as parking is limited. Arrival between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. is advisable in order to reach the viewing area before 10 a.m. Entrance fees for the day have been waived for the release.
The newly released condors will join 15 other wild California condors already living in the national park. Today, there are approximately 160 condors flying free in California, Arizona, and Baja California, Mexico. The birds will be “soft released” through a double-door trap, but because condors have been known to sit still despite seeing the doors open, there is a chance that no birds will enter the trap and fly out on the day of the release.
On one such occasion at the Baja California release site, I waited with condor biologists for hours before the first bird finally exited through the trap doors. Once he was out he seemed a bit clumsy in the air with long, hard flaps of his wings. He was followed shortly thereafter by a second and third bird both of which seemed to land with a thump on a pine tree. The fourth and final bird seemed destined to remain indoors until the sight of other flying condors seemed to finally coax it out of its slumber. It was a long day of waiting so please have patience. This is, after all, like leaving for college for the first time, and by the looks of it, like taking their training wheels off. Happy condor watching!