Series: California Condor, Arizona/ Utah population updates

Hello Condor Enthusiasts,

Once again, most of the information in this document comes from The Peregrine Fund's "Condor Cliffs" Facebook page at www.facebook.com/condorcliffs.
As usual, highlights are in bold.

Population numbers from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as of April 30, 2012:

World Total: 405 (now probably somewhat higher-and already a new record!)
  • Captive Population (including birds temporarily in captivity): 179
  • Wild Population: 226
  • California: 125 (including 6 chicks)
  • Baja California, Mexico: 21
  • Arizona/Utah: 78 (now 76) counting 2 confirmed chicks
Two condors in the Arizona/Utah population have been lost to predation since my March update. Both were newly released two-year-olds.Female 554/tag K4 was found dead on April 11, apparently killed by a golden eagle. And the coyote-eaten remains of female 548/tag 48 were found on May 14.

Arizona Breeding Season News:
Six nests have been confirmed this spring, resulting in two failures, two suspected chicks, and two confirmed chicks!The (known) nesting pairs are as follows:
  • Experienced breeders 126F/26 and 114/tagless are raising confirmed chick #659 in a new cave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Hatch date: c. 4/4/12.
  • Female 296/tag -6 and Male 266/tag 66 made their 2nd nesting attempt in the Vermilion Cliffs, and have a suspected chick. Hatch date: c. 4/13/12.
  • Female 346/tag A6 and male 158/tag 58 made a nesting attempt on the Kaibab plateau, Kaibab National Forest but their nest failed after one week of incubation.
  • Female 133/tag 33 and male 187/tag 87 turn out to be using a new, west-facing cave in the Redwall limestone below Grand Canyon Village, Grand Canyon NP. Confirmed chick # 660 already has a (very distant)photo posted on Condor Cliffs!
  • Female 302/tag 02 and male 273/tag 73 established the first nest yet in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.This nest has failed.
  • Female 210/tag 10 has split with 122M & paired with 287M/-7, who lost former mate 314F to lead poisoning this February. They have an active nest and suspected chick in the same cave in the Tapeats Creek area, Grand Canyon National Park that 210F & 134M (who later disappeared) used successfully in 2007. (By my count 210F & 122M are our 3rd "divorce" in Arizona/Utah, which confirms my view that condors are a lot like humans! Do WE mate for life? Well, in theory….)
Insights from this week's two-day Condor Workshop in Springdale, UT:
Someone asked the first morning: "Why is this a Condor Workshop but nearly all the sessions are about lead?" The answer: "Because lead poisoning is the leading cause of mortality among wild California condors and the greatest obstacle to the recovery of the species." As carrion feeders, condors often find lead shot or fragments of lead rifle bullets in gut piles left by hunters and in the remains of sick or injured domestic animals and "varmints" dispatched by ranchers. Lead rifle bullets tend to leave about 15-30% of their mass behind in the carcass when the bullet passes through-sometimes over 200 fragments from one bullet. Copper and other forms of non-lead ammunition are less toxic and most importantly, they do not fragment. While hunters have a strong tradition of conservation and take great pains not to injure anything they're not going to eat, it's only since scientists started putting transmitters on condors that anyone realized how much collateral damage lead ammunition causes. And of course, the gut piles hunters leave behind CAN be a great food source for condors, eagles, and other scavengers-when lead-free.

Golden & bald eagles frequently succumb to lead poisoning, and during the conference a video of a bald eagle left weak and shaking uncontrollably from lead poisoning put tears in my eyes. One biologist described being part of an eagle restoration project in the Channel Islands years ago when alternatives to lead ammunition were hard to come by. He fed a young eagle a deer carcass from which he'd carefully cut away any meat he suspected could have lead in it, and found the eaglet became ill with lead toxicity anyway! He just hadn't realized how far the lead fragments can extend from the wound channel-the same reason whystudies have found unacceptable levels of lead contamination in venison donated to food banks. We heard from hunters who swear by the superior ballistics of copper bullets, and we saw demonstrations of the bullets' accuracy.

It seems the major drawbacks to switching over are the effort of identifying the right ammunition type and locating it, a slightly higherprice (though that is improving year to year as demand increases) and the need to go to a shooting range to accustom oneself to how the new ammunition works in one's old gun. Kathy Sullivan of the Arizona Game & Fish Department (AZGFD) tries to make it easy for hunters to find the right non-lead alternative for their guns; her latest list is under the "Non-lead ammunition" link at www.azgfd.gov/condor. She recommends that rifle hunters try a somewhat lower weight copper bullet than the lead bullet it replaces, since it won't lose the mass that lead bullets do.

Interestingly, none of the major players in the condor recovery program in Arizona and Utah are in favor of a ban on lead ammunition. For one thing, they point out that when this 10(j) "non-essential, experimental" population of condors was re-introduced to the area, it was under a law stipulating that "current and future land…uses such as…sport hunting should not be restricted due to the…condors." Besides, they point out that the reasons for switching are compelling, that hunters have a proud tradition of stepping up to the plate to conserve wildlife, and that education is likely to be more effective in changing behavior than the passage of a new hard-to-enforce law. With a combination of incentives and hunter education, the AZGFD got compliance from over 90% of hunters on the North Kaibab in 2011, who either switched to non-lead ammunition or removed their gut piles from the field. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is well behind Arizona in their non-lead program, but is and moving in the same direction as Arizona.

For a very comprehensive web site on this topic, see www.huntingwithnonlead.org.


Grand Canyon National Park Condor Talks:
On the South Rim, Condor Talks are offered daily this summer at 5:00 pm at Lookout Studio.
On the North Rim, the Condor Talk takes place daily on the terrace of Grand Canyon Lodge at 4:30 pm.

Updated Condor Chart:
I've updated the chart of California Condors in AZ/UT by Tag # as of June 4, 2012, and it may be downloaded here:
https://www.nps.gov/grca/naturescience/upload/CondorChart20120604.pdf

Condor Cam:
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly the San Diego Wild Animal Park) still has a webcam on one of their condor chicks, which hatched on March 10, 2012. Check it out at: http://www.sandiegozooglobal.org/video/condor_cam
Good luck spotting some condors!

--Marker

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

Last updated: February 7, 2017