Condor Update - 2008-11 (November)

Fellow Condor Enthusiasts -

Sorry this is both rather late and long! All information is up-to-date as of November 12, 2008; it's taken me a while to revise the chart and get this out! For skimming the information below, I've put key info in bold.

California Condors in the Wild in AZ/UT by Tag # 2008-11-12
(108kb PDF File)

Condor Population Stats:

The California condor population stats from the USFWS as of October 31 are out, as follows (including birds temporarily in captivity):
World Total: 327

In California: 87
In Baja: 20

67 (69 since the release on 11/7/08)
This includes #327F/tag A7, who is still on time out at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument relsease site)

Grand Canyon National Park Condor News:

Both of this year's wild chicks in Arizona have fledged! The Grandeur Point chick (now officially #476) of 133F and 187M was seen 60 meters below its nest cave in the Redwall Limestone on September 24. Since then it's been seen making short flights in that area. The Salt Creek chick (now known as #472, offspring of 127F/tag 27 and 123M/tag 23) was seen below its nest cave on October 16, also taking short flights. This fledgling is the younger sibling both of #305 (deceased and hanging in the Visitor Center at Canyon View Information Plaza) and #392M/tag 92, doing well in the wild. This brings us to 8 free-flying condors that were raised in the wild here in northern Arizona.

Read the December 4, 2008 news release from the Southwest Condor Working Group:
Two More California Condor Chicks Flying Free at Grand Canyon (86kb PDF File)

The 69 AZ/UT birds includes two that were released for the first time on September 11: 383F/tag 83 and 384M/tag 84, both raised at the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. Also two more released on November 7: 409F/tag 9 and 414F/tag E1, both raised at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Not a lot of condor sightings from the rims lately, and the regular Condor Talks have finished until March 1. Condors are sometimes being seen in Grand Canyon National Park, mainly by inner-canyon hikers. The majority of the population, as is usual at this time of year, have been up on the North Kaibab National Forest and in southern Utah. Its hunting season! Once snow covers the gut piles, the condors will start congregating around the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument release site.

Progress on the Coin Issue:

There has been progress on the problem of people tossing coins from stairways such as the ones at Mather Point, Grand Canyon NP. This is a condor issue since pennies are almost 98% zinc and we've now lost one for sure [281F this spring] and quite likely two [136F last spring] breeding-age female condors due to zinc poisoning from coins. (Of course we do not know where the condors actually picked up those coins.)

On September 27, National Public Lands Day, three rescue teams volunteered their time to the project under a Special Use Permit: the Arizona Mountaineering Club, the Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association, and the Southern Arizona Rescue Association. Some of these folks come annually to pick up trash below the rim. This year they made a special effort to collect coins from below Mather Point, along with coins and trash below Lookout Studio and Grand Canyon Village generally.

The result was about 7 gallons of coins retrieved, totalling 28,010 coins from 22 countries plus the European Union, valued at $580.95! This includes all the most obvious coins on the rocky outcrops as well as considerable headway toward removing the large numbers of coins at the bottom of the cliffs. It was an impressive day-and-a-half-long effort, for which park staff and condor enthusiasts everywhere owe them a big thanks!
Clearly one weekend a year is not sufficient to keep on top of the coin problem, or the trash below the rim either. In fact the group did not have time to attack the area around the stairway by Yavapai Point (another problem area) at all.

Todd Nelson, the park's Volunteer Coordinator is looking into getting together equipment for a group of people already skilled in climbing and technical rescue who might be willing to go below the rim on a monthly or bimonthly basis to keep on top of the coin problem. If you have the skills and are interested, please contact him.

We also now have 14 small "Coins Can Kill" signs ready to be mounted on railings down the stairways at Mather Point, Yavapai Point, and Lookout Studio, and a couple of sandwich boards with the same graphics already located at the top of both stairways at Mather Point.

Lead Contamination Issue:

Excellent article on lead in venison, its effects on condors and possibly on people:
Check out this link to a great article by John Moir:
John Moir is also the author of the very readable, highly recommended book Return of the Condor: The Race to Save Our Largest Bird From Extinction.

More recent news on lead ammunition:
The following "Blood Lead Level Study Results" fact sheet is from a North Dakota Department of Health web site. It explains their recent, controversial recommendation that pregnant women and children under age 6 should avoid eating wild game killed with lead bullets:

For Hunters:
For anyone still debating a switch to copper bullets, the following video on Lead Bullets vs. Non-lead Bullets is from Pinnacles National Monument, and is quite persuasive. In this video, Wildlife Biologist, Jim Petterson, and a group of other hunters compare the performance of lead and non-lead bullets. He also discusses the potential impacts of lead bullet fragmentation on wildlife and humans.

News and information from California:

I've been asked on occasion what to call a group of condors, and are condors territorial?
Here are some answers from condor biologist Jessica Koning as posted in the Ventana Wildlife Society's Notes From the Field, September 2008.

As Interns join the Condor Recovery effort, they come to see every condor as an individual. With just over 300 condors in the world and only 40 condors in the wild here in Monterey County, it is impossible to observe these birds every day and not notice that each condor marches to their own drummer. Collectively, condors live life at a relaxed pace. They spend most of their time idling in treetops, or riding gentle updrafts in slow circles in friendly groups of around 8 individuals. Since they are so social, groups of condors routinely meander up down and around the Big Sur coast, like they are riding a gigantic carousel. It is no wonder that the official name for a group of condors is a party. The biologists on the condor project log many hours documenting this slow social whirl. Occasionally, we see behaviors that we don’t expect, and cause us to re-evaluate how we view the life of a condor. Life isn’t always a party, and these giants are not always gentle.

Most of this month, we have noticed our adult condors beginning the breeding cycle, which will reach a fever pitch this January. Most of the year, condors are not territorial, but during the breeding season a pair of mated condors will vigorously chase away any intruders from their nest. Our condor flock is young, and most of our adults have mated only recently. In some cases, the boundary between one pair’s nesting territory and their neighbors is under dispute. Condors who genuinely enjoyed dining on dead sea lion together last month are now grappling viciously in midair, and appear to be earnestly trying to harm one another. It turns out that good fences make good neighbors whatever species you belong to.

Also this sad news (despite the law restricting the use of lead ammunition in California, which went into effect July 1):
The Deer Hunting Rifle season in Monterey County ended on the 22nd of September. We plan to trap the entire flock to test for lead poisoning early in October, but intervention did not come soon enough for Pinnacles National Monument condor #336, who died of lead poisoning on September 7th. Observers in the field could see she was ill and assisted Pinnacles biologists in capturing her in Big Sur for veterinary treatment. Veterinarians in Monterey and at the Los Angeles Zoo did all they could to assist her recovery, but she was too weak to recover from the toxic level of lead in her system. The official necropsy report is still pending…

And in case you've ever wondered what a condor smells like...
Condors do not have a reputation for great personal cleanliness. They eat food that we find stinky, and biologists who have held condors in order to give them a medical check up can tell you that they have a strange musty odor that is not entirely pleasant. However, we can tell you that condors really do enjoy bathing, especially in hot weather. It must be hard to be covered in black feathers when it is 95 degrees outside. They generally bathe in groups, and it brings out their playful natures.

As always, you can also keep updated on the condors in Arizona/Utah by checking the Peregrine Fund's Notes from the Field.

Here's wishing you all a wonderful winter!
Ms. Marker Marshall
Park Ranger - Interpretation
Grand Canyon National Park

Last updated: February 7, 2017