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California Condor Breeding Season Update

California CondorAn update from Ms. Marker Marshall, Grand Canyon Interpretive Ranger. I will do my best to forward updates from Marker. She’s great!!

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Hello Condor Enthusiasts— This is a long Breeding Season update.

Population numbers from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as of February 28, 2011:

World Total:     369  (This is down one since December 31; a breeding-age female condor from Baja California, Mexico, who was being treated for lead poisoning at the L.A. Zoo, died there on January 7.)

Captive Population (including birds temporarily in captivity):  179

Wild Population:                     190

California:                                  97

Baja California, Mexico:       20

Arizona/Utah: 74 (counting #122 in Phoenix for lead treatment) 73 now, following one mortality in March (see “Sad News” below)

As of February 28, 32 eggs had been laid this year in the four captive breeding facilities (the L.A. Zoo, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Oregon Zoo in Portland and The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho).  Five eggs had been confirmed in the wild in California: 2 each in southern California and Pinnacles National Monument, and another in the Big Sur area.

Arizona news (from conversations with Peregrine Fund staff Chris Parish on March 3 and Eddie Feltes this morning):

Male 122/tag 22, who was expected to nest again this year in the Tapeats Creek area with female 210/10, was transferred to Phoenix on January 19 to be treated for lead poisoning by Dr. Kathy Orr at Liberty Wildlife. He has recovered nicely, and will be returned to Vermilion Cliffs tomorrow, and re-released in another week. #210 has not re-mated, and there is just a slim chance that this pair could still produce an egg this year, though it’s unlikely.

As of March 3, just one egg was thought to exist thus far in Arizona, and it’s still the only visually confirmed egg although others are now suspected.  This nest is a repeat performance by the trio of condors 241F/41, 193M/93, & 243M/43 on the east Kaibab plateau. Their nest failed last year, and hopes are not high that they will succeed this year unless they settle out into a single pair.  But for now, all three birds are taking turns incubating and all appears to be going well.

Sad news from Eddie Feltes today:  Six-year-old female 366/C6 was recently found dead of unknown causes (lead was ruled out) on the Kaibab National Forest north of the park. She and male 203/03 are suspected to have had an egg in a nest cave in the Deer Creek area of Grand Canyon National Park. 203 is still spending a lot of time in the cave, but cannot possibly succeed in incubating alone.

Another recent disappointment: Eight-year-old male 299/99 recently showed up at the release site in poor condition and tested high for blood lead level; he was held and is undergoing chelation. This is all too common an occurrence among condors in the wild, but is especially disappointing in this case because he and female 343/A3 appeared to be on the verge of nesting in Zion National Park in Utah! They’d been seen regularly courting and mating in the vicinity of Angel’s Landing, and had shown interest in 3 different potential nest caves in that area.  #343 is being held at Vermilion Cliffs too, to avoid breaking up the pair.  But their odds of breeding this year are now much reduced.

Other suspected eggs:

Female 133/33 and male 187/87 seem to have produced an egg in a new cave, in the Pipe Springs drainage, just west of Yaki Point.  This cave is visible from a spot on the rim just east of Mather Point!  (Expect a call for nest watch volunteers sometime soon.)

Female 314/-4 and Male 287/-7 are suspected to have laid in an unidentified cave in the Redwall limestone in the vicinity of the Great Thumb (well to the west of the developed part of the South Rim, but within Grand Canyon National Park).  This pair courted last year too, but never showed signs of an egg.

Female 253/53 and male 223/3 seem to have laid their 5th egg in four years in the river corridor within Marble Canyon, in the Soap Creek drainage within Grand Canyon National Park.  It is suspected that at least some of their previous failures may have been due to ravens raiding their nest when the incubating parent was taking a brief break.  This year they have chosen a new nest cave that seems to have less raven activity around it, so perhaps this will be their year!

Female 280/80 and male 234/4 have been seen frequently courting and mating around Plateau Point.   Still no sign of a nest, but they have laid in the past below Buddha Temple and it is expected they might lay in that vicinity again sometime soon.

Most Eligible Bachelorette, female 316/16, an eight-year-old female who has still never mated, has been spending time with five-year-old male 423/E3, but there has been no sign of courtship, and he is on the young side for breeding.  In the meanwhile, Most Eligible Bachelor, sixteen-year-old 123/23, who has fathered several chicks but lost mate 127 to lead poisoning last winter, has shown no signs of courting anyone this breeding season.

Last year’s Vermilion Cliffs fledgling, #558 (soon to receive tag 5) is doing well. He or she has fed about a dozen times on calf carcasses at the release site, but is still being fed by parents male 114/tagless and female 126/26.  That pair has been observed courting and mating, and briefly showed signs of possibly having an egg in their usual nest cave.  But with 558 still being fed and still showing up in that nest cave, it is unlikely that they will breed successfully this year.

Incidentally, the proffering of calf carcasses (still-born dairy calves and unwanted male dairy calves from several organic dairies) has changed a bit recently.  Carcasses are still put out every three days at the Vermilion Cliffs release site, but instead of scattering them about artfully, they are placed in the release pen just as when trapping is being done.  Coyotes have discovered Vermilion Cliffs as a source of food, and had been dragging off the carcasses during the night before the condors even saw them.  The prevalence of coyotes meant danger to the condors, as well as a waste of good meat, but this seems to be solving the problem for now.

Three male condors have not been seen since December or early January:  420/20, 459/59 (the 2007 Vermilion Cliffs chick), and 331/31.  They haven’t been written off yet, but could at some point be listed as missing and presumed dead.

I e-mailed Kathy Sullivan of Arizona Game & Fish Department about her continuing efforts to eliminate the use of lead bullets on the North Kaibab in Arizona.  She responded with the following on March 4, 2011:

The free ammo program and gut pile raffle were both implemented again last fall. We had 87% voluntary participation from Kaibab hunters in 2010. We’ve had 80-90% participation for the past four years now!

We’re also continuing our outreach efforts full speed.  I worked a non-lead ammo booth at the Sportsman’s Expo in PHX last weekend (contacting just under 1,000 hunters and shooters).  I will also be staffing a non-lead ammo shooting booth at Game and Fish’s Outdoor Expo in PHX the last weekend of this month (also expected to reach ~ 1,000 people). Utah is also working on voluntary lead reduction efforts.  UT Department of Wildlife implemented a non-lead ammo rebate coupon program last fall: if hunters bought non-lead ammo and sent the UPC symbol to UTDWR, they were mailed a $25 rebate check. Results will be presented next month.

Until I have more news….

Marker

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

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