Last year ended as another successful one for Arizona's California condor reintroduction program, with two wild chicks safely fledging.
The older of the two, condor 389, left its Vermilion Cliffs nest on Nov. 30. The chick at Grand Canyon's Salt Creek, number 392, fledged sometime between Dec. 22 and 23.
The birds are doing well and being cared for by their parents, according to Thom Lord of The Peregrine Fund, which oversees the captive breeding program that provides birds for Arizona releases.
"Both of the (Salt Creek) bird's parents located and fed the chick within two days of its fledging, and Condor 392 seems to have made it through his big leap intact and healthy," he wrote in the Fund's Notes From the Field at www.peregrinefund.org. "Condor 389, Arizona's first wild-fledged condor this year, also appears to be doing very well, making progressively longer flights and still being very regularly visited by both parents."
A third pair produced their first egg last spring but abandoned their nest two and a half months later. Peregrine Fund biologists entered the cave in June and found the egg intact.
This year's chicks are the fourth and fifth wild-born fledglings in Arizona since the California Condor Reintroduction Program was established in 1996. The first, condor 305, fledged in November of 2003 and was apparently thriving until he was found dead in March of 2005. His parents, 123 and 127, are also parents of the Salt Creek chick. Last year's condors, 342 and 350, are also doing well with 350 gaining his numbers and transmitter in October. Since then, this year's two chicks are the only two in Arizona who are not radio-tagged.
More birds are slated to be added to Arizona's population. Seven young condors were brought to the Vermilion Cliffs release site in mid-December and will be released in the coming year.
In other condor news, Kathy Sullivan of the Arizona Game and Fish Department reported that the body of two-year-old condor 291 was recovered near a creek in a canyon north of Zion National Park in early November. More positive were the findings during the busy trapping and lead testing process during hunting season.
"Several birds that forage on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona and the Kolob Canyon area in Utah were trapped and tested for lead," she reported. "We're not out of the woods yet, but so far 2005 lead exposure results are an improvement over past years."
She said that about 65 percent of the nearly 2,400 hunters in this region redeemed coupons for free non-lead ammunition. Post-hunt surveys are expected to provide data on how much of it was used.
Back in 1982, only 22 California condors were left in the world. Efforts to capture and breed those birds have been successful, and condors were reintroduced in Arizona in 1996. The total world population of California condors is 273. There are 146 in captive breeding programs and of those in the wild, 59 are in Arizona, 55 are in California and 13 are in Baja.
California condors have been federally listed as endangered since 1967. The birds can weigh 18 to 22 pounds and have a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet.
The condor reintroduction project in Arizona is a joint project of many partners, including The Peregrine Fund, Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Kaibab National Forest, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Southern Utah's Coalition of Resources and Economics, and numerous other partners.
Funding for the project has been provided by The Peregrine Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Peter Pfendler, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Steve Martin and the Toledo Zoo, Disney Wildlife Conservation Awards, Kearny Alliance, Patagonia, Grand Canyon Conservation Fund, Philadelphia Foundation, S. Byers Trust, Globe Foundation, Conni Williams, Philanthropic Collaborative, Earth Friends, Steve Hoddy, Arizona Bureau of Land Management, and others.
The California condors are being released as a "non-essential/experimental population" under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. Section 10(j) provides that the species can be released in an area without impacting current or future land use planning. This authority has been spelled out further in an innovative agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local governments. This "Implementation Agreement" spells out a positive working relationship between the federal government and the various local governments.
Visit the Peregrine Fund's Web site at www.peregrinefund.org. You can find updates in the Notes From the Field section.