For the Birds Radio Program: The Continuing Saga of Arizona's California Condors
California Condors in the Grand Canyon area are leading lives right out of a soap opera. (4:53) Date confirmed.
Birds in the news: California Condor
On November 5, 2003, the first California Condor to be hatched in the wild in more than 20 years left its Grand Canyon nest on its first tentative flight. The bird immediately began to explore its surroundings and shortly after was located and fed by one of its captive-raised parents, becoming the first chick to fledge successfully in the wild since the beginning of the condor captive breeding program that was initiated in the 1980s.
The most recent update of the Condor information page at www.peregrinefund.org indicates that this bird, called Condor 305 by the researchers, is doing fine, though is a little less adventurous than they expected it to be at this stage. As of early February, the bird was still completely dependent on its parents, Condors 123 and 127, for food. Parent condors feed their young by regurgitating food into the chick’s eager, wide open mouth. The parents fed this baby exclusively like this for weeks. But beginning in January, the parents have been regurgitating food onto the floor of a cave or on a rock and Condor 305 has been feeding itself by picking up the partially digested food in its bill.
The fledgling is also becoming an adept flier, though as of February it was staying quite close to its home base. The researchers note that it has had plenty of practice landing on small cliff ledges and in cave entrances. It settles down to roost each night in its old nest cave or in one of the many other nearby caves.
Researchers have placed five global-positioning system (GPS) satellite transmitters on condors, and the transmitters are proving to be wonderfully accurate. One already helped them locate Condor 196 who spent several days last week on a private ranch near Kanab, Utah, before traveling up to Zion National Park then returning to the release site via Navajo Bridge.
This year has been something of a soap opera for the condors. Divorces and new pairings keep the field crew guessing about who will ultimately join together and produce an egg. Condors 119 and 122, who nested unsuccessfully for the last two years at Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim, appear to be maintaining their pairing this year. Condors 134 and 149, who for the past two years appeared to be a pair, have officially broken up. The condor quad, which consisted of two males and two females that were inseparable last year, finally broke up. The four birds tried nesting in a cave on the Vermilion Cliffs last year, but four huge condors trying to incubate one egg appeared to be two too many.
Condor 136, an 8-year-old female who was part of the very first Arizona release group, has had little appeal to male condors over the last three years. However, this year, she’s been displayed to by several males and appears to have utterly captivated Condor 187. Researchers are delighted that she is finally being appreciated by males, especially because last year, her new beau’s attentions were focused on Condor 176 who, unbeknownst to him, is his sister.
In addition to the wild-fledged bird, ten captive-raised condors were released at the Arizona release site in December 2003, bringing the total wild population to 215 birds. The reintroduction project is being implemented by a broad range of public and private partners. You can keep up to date on their exploits on the Internet at www.peregrinefund.org.