Series: California Condor, Arizona/ Utah population updates

Hello Condor Enthusiasts—

Arizona/Utah news:

--Eddie Feltes has updated his Notes From the Field at as of May 5, with all the scoop on this spring’s nesting plus several great photos. Here’s one interesting tidbit:

The 5th confirmed nesting is that of a trio involving condors 241F, 193M, and 243M. These two males have been jostling for position to possess sole breeding rights to female 241 over the past few years, and based on observation, we believed 193M had finally succeeded, as the pair began incubating 241’s first documented egg on 2-April-2010 in a small canyon on the east Kaibab Plateau, Grand Canyon NP. Then just a few weeks into the incubation cycle, 243M was permitted to incubate the egg, and all three have been sharing duties ever since. We are expecting this attempt to end up unsuccessful, but we are presently waiting and observing to document the outcome.

--Eddie mentions a total of six nesting attempts in Arizona this spring, including two failures (one on the North Kaibab and one in the Marble Canyon portions of Grand Canyon). Besides the nest on the east side of the Kaibab mentioned above, the other three still-active nests are:

· 114M/none [that’s Studbook# Sex/tag#] and 126F/26 in their usual nest cave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. This suspected egg most likely hatched about April 12.

· 162M/62 and 296F/-6 in another nest cave in theVermilion Cliffs area. This suspected egg was expected to hatch about May 6.

· 122M/22 and 210F/10 in the Tapeats Creek area, Grand Canyon NP, about 45 miles downstream of Phantom Ranch. This pair nested in the same area last year but their chick apparently never fledged. They appear to have laid around March 26.

--Not counting any possible chicks, the number of wild condors in AZ/UT remains at 72. 14-year-old breeding bird 133F/33 was re-released April 24 after treatment at the Phoenix Zoo for severe lead poisoning. (She immediately rejoined her mate, 187M/87, but it’s probably too late for them to breed this year.) But balancing that gain, one of the two young birds released for the first time in early March has been returned to the flight pen for another six months. She tended to avoid the high springtime winds by roosting on flat ground, which put her in danger of predation.

Other Condor News:

--In the Sierra San Pedro Mártir of Baja California, Mexico, as of May 7 biologists had confirmed one chick and suspect one more. Perhaps this will be the year the program in Mexico gets its first wild fledgling.

--A chick hatched March 24 in a cave in Pinnacles National Monument. This is the first condor chick to hatch in the Monument in over 100 years. The original egg laid there the first week of March by wild condors turned out to be non-viable, but it was replaced with a dummy egg and then with a soon-to-hatch egg from the San Diego Wild Animal Park. This will give that wild condor pair experience in raising young, and if all goes well it means that one more California condor will be raised in the wild instead of in captivity.

The full story and a photo of the pipping egg may be found at:

Pinnacles National Monument put out a press release on May 13, regarding the condor chick there, which I have mentioned above. Sadly, both the chick at Pinnacles and its male parent have been found to have high blood lead levels and have been taken to the L.A. Zoo for chelation. Biologists are trying to trap the female parent to determine if she also has lead poisoning.

For more details, here's the link to the news release on Pinnacles National Monument's web site:

--The condor crew at the Ventana Wildlife Society report 5 condor nests in the Big Sur area this spring, 3 of them still active as of the end of April. The central coast of California is the only area where condors today commonly feed on marine mammals. This creates an issue we don’t have here in Arizona/Utah, as described in their March Notes from the Field, in reference to one of their wild nests:

Their own egg was replaced by our Senior Wildlife Biologist, Joe Burnett, because of the unlikelihood that their natural egg would be successful due to possible eggshell thinning from DDE, a common contaminant that is likely accumulating in condors that feed on marine mammal carcasses. Although this is a problem now, we are hopeful that this issue will no longer be a problem in the near future and the condor will be able to make as good of a comeback as the Brown Pelican and Bald Eagle did, which both faced this same eggshell thinning problems in the past.

There has also been a problem in California with condor chicks being fed trash items by their parents. Biologists are trying to mitigate this by a combination of making bone fragments available as a safe calcium source, organizing volunteers for trash pick-up in areas frequented by condors, and spreading out the proffered carcasses to encourage the condors to forage more widely and spend less time finding trash. It’s thought that condor parents in California may have fed trash such as bottle caps to their growing chicks while seeking calcium needed to produce condor bones, in the same way that breeding females in Arizona have themselves ingested coins, possibly seeking calcium needed to produce eggs. In Arizona too an effort has been made to remove coins from places like Mather Point at Grand Canyon, and bone fragments are scattered about near the release site at Vermilion Cliffs. But the condors here have always tended to range widely in search of non-proffered carcasses, and have not lost any chicks that we know of to the ingestion of trash.

--The biologists in central California also report that they continue to find elevated lead levels in condors, despite the ban on hunting big game with lead ammunition that went into effect in that area July of 2008. Clearly with or without a lead ban, hunter education and incentives remain key to making the switch to non-lead ammunition.

--One can follow the Ventana Wildlife Society’s Notes From the Field at

--Southern California reported their first wild egg of the season as laid on February 10, four days before our first egg in Arizona. They were expecting about five to seven nests this year, but I haven’t heard any recent update.

Population Numbers from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as of April 30, 2010:

World Total: 366

Wild: 186

--CA: 95

--Baja Califonia: 18

--AZ/UT: 73 (counting one chick, probably the one due to have hatched May 12 at Vermilion Cliffs)

Captive: 180 (counting birds that are just temporarily in captivity)

Besides the Arizona chick, this includes five other wild chicks thus far:

--Baja California, Mexico: 1

--Big Sur area in central California: 1

--Pinnacles National Monument (since taken to the L.A. Zoo to be treated for lead poisoning): 1

--Southern California: 2.

Also 18 captive-bred chicks.

Jesse Grantham of the USFWS also mentioned that May 14, 2010 is the 30th birthday of Condor AC-9, the last wild condor captured back in 1987. He's been doing well back in the wild since he was released on May 1, 2002, and he has successfully fledged more than one wild chick.

Of course at age 30, AC-9 is a still pretty young compared to the oldest California condor today. Topa Topa, in captivity at the L.A. Zoo since his capture as a chick back in 1966, turned 44 in January. He sired a chick just last year, at 43. (I haven't heard about this year yet.) So did the oldest female, AC-9's mother Tama. To have had AC-9 29 years before, Tama must have been at least 34 years old when she raised her chick last year at the Oregon Zoo, and 35 now. (Again, I don't know if she laid this year or not.)

Until I have more news to share.

Ms. Marker Marshall
Park Ranger--Interpretation
Grand Canyon National Park