SW CA Condor Update - 2010-10 (October)

Hello Condor Enthusiasts—

Lots of condor news to report, good, bad & neutral.

You may download the Condor Tag Chart (102 kb PDF file - updated October 28, 2010)

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

Total Population: 381

Captive (counting birds in temporary captivity): 189

Wild: 192
In California: 94 (including 3 chicks)
In Baja: 22 (including 2 chicks)
In AZ/UT: 76 (including one chick, now fledged)

Arizona condor news, from Eddie Feltes of The Peregrine Fund:

Sadly, 11-year-old breeding female 195 was found dead on September 18 next to highway 89A, north of Jacob Lake, AZ.She had several broken bones and had been seen feeding on road-killed carcasses in the past, so it is suspected that she was hit by a car. She and male 158 have had 4 failed nesting attempts over this past 4 years. To lose yet another breeding female is a great loss for the recovery program in Arizona. I count 14 females in the wild here aged 6 or more (that is, of potential breeding age), compared to 30 males. There are 11 males aged 8 to 11 who still have not mated (now competing with male 158), but there are no unpaired females above age 7. Condors typically take their first shot at breeding somewhere around age 6 to 8, so of course the good news is that the total number of wild birds of breeding age is rising year by year. In fact our oldest wild-raised bird, 350M/-0, is 6 years old and could breed in the next few years, although of course he faces a lot of competition for mates.

Also there are 4 birds--all captive-bred 3- and 4-year-olds--that have not been seen since spring or earlier. For now they're still counted among the 76 wild birds in Arizona/Utah, but they may eventually have to be presumed dead.

On a brighter note, 3 condors were released for the first time on September 25, and a fourth was re-released after having been in the wild for just a few days last spring. All are doing well. Two more birds may be released the first week of November, though it won't be a big public release like September 25. In other years the big public release was always in the spring, but high winds were often a problem, causing newly released youngsters to want to roost on the ground where they were vulnerable to coyote predation. Also, when they started branching out and taking longer flights from the release site they often ran into territorial breeding birds who drove them right back again. Fall releases bear some risk of the more far-ranging of the newly released birds finding carcasses with lead in them, but overall appears to be the better option.

Hunting seasons for deer and elk are in full swing, always a dangerous time for condors. Already this season, condors are known to have fed on carcasses or gut piles containing lead. The Peregrine Fund biologists will start trapping condors to test for lead poisoning once the birds start to show up back at the release site. But for now the condors that may have been exposed to lead are still finding lots of food up in Utah and on the North Kaibab Plateau, so it's a matter of waiting until snow covers those carcasses and drives the birds back to the Vermilion Cliffs release site.

Use of lead ammunition, instead of alternatives made of copper or other materials, is hazardous not only to California condors but also to other wildlife such as bald eagles, and to human health when we eat venison. In fact the health or natural resource departments of North Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota have all come out with recommendations that pregnant women and children under age 6 should avoid eating wild game killed with lead ammunition. One of the best articles I've read on the subject is John Moir's "Condors in a Coal Mine," published in the September 2008 issue of the Smithsonian:

Although the majority of this population of condors are up in Utah and on the Kaibab Plateau, AZ dining on venison, others are gathering near the Bright Angel trail below Indian Garden in Grand Canyon NP. Xanterra lost a pack mule in that area this week; bad news for the mule but a good clean food source for California condors.

The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument chick has new status and a new name! It is no longer a chick but a fledgeling, having left its nest cave on October 20 for the first time. So far it's experimenting with short flights close to home, and of course is still depending entirely on its parents for food. It has been given studbook number 558. Since condor 158M is wearing tag 58 already, the youngster will eventually get tagged with something like K8 or K5. (Birds hatched in 2008 got tag numbers like H6. Birds hatched in 2009 got numbers like J6, the letter "I" having been skipped due to potential confusion with the number "1." So the "K" series is next, for birds hatched in 2010.)

Having made several backpacking trips into the Tapeats Creek region of Grand Canyon, biologists never did find a condor nest cave there. It is assumed that female 210 and male 122 failed in their nesting attempt this year, as did all but one of the six pairs that had active nests at one point this spring. Still, that's five pairs (minus female 195) who have had a little more experience for a new attempt at breeding in 2011.

Until next time,

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

Grand Canyon National Park, Pinnacles National Park, Zion National Park

Last updated: February 28, 2020