The Thanksgiving holiday was truly a time of thanks and celebration for all those involved with and following the California Condor restoration project. Biologists, volunteers, and condor supporters have held their breath during November, waiting for two wild-hatched chicks to stretch their wings and take their risky inaugural flights. By Thursday afternoon, both chicks, now just over six months old, had successfully fledged.
Hatched in mid-May at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, California Condor chick #342 fledged on Tuesday, November 23, 2004, at 4:20pm, according to Beau Fairchild, field crew for The Peregrine Fund. Fairchild notes, "I think it is important to reiterate that #342 left the nest cave on its own beyond a doubt. It did not slip and was not forcefully fledged by an outside source. It flew because of its own desire to do so." Vermilion Cliffs is the primary release site for the project, and is now a successful nesting site as well.
Condor Chick #350, also hatched in mid-May in the Grand Canyon, successfully fledged on Thursday, November 25, 2004 at 4:46pm. The fledging was witnessed by Chad Olson and Beau Fairchild. Olson, a raptor biologist for Grand Canyon National Park, commented, "What an amazing first flight! Unlike the chick that fledged last year, this chick managed to glide a long way and just about landed on the cliff face, which would have been an incredible feat considering the sheerness of the cliff. This was definitely the best Thanksgiving present I could have ever imagined."
This is the second year in a row wild California Condors have hatched and fledged in Arizona since releases began in 1996 – the total of free-flying condors in Arizona is now up to 49. Last year, a male condor fledged in the Grand Canyon, the first fledging of a wild-hatched chick in more than 20 years. On November 4, a condor fledged near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, the first fledging in California since the endangered birds were brought into captivity for their protection and to initiate a captive breeding and release recovery program.
As the largest flighted bird in North America, with a wingspan reaching up to nine-and-a-half feet, condors typically fledge full-grown at around six months of age; however, juvenile condors may be dependent on their parents for more than a year. The California Condor was included on the first Federal Endangered Species List in 1967 and is currently one of the most endangered birds in North America. Condors typically do not reach reproductive maturity until they are five to eight years of age.
In mid-December, 10-14 captive-bred young California Condors will be transported from the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho to the release site at Vermilion Cliffs. These condors will be held in the release pen for three to twelve months to ready them for survival in the wild.
Regular updates on the California Condor Restoration Project in the Southwest are provided in the Notes from the Field section of The Peregrine Fund's website www.peregrinefund.org.
The historic Arizona reintroduction is a joint project between The Peregrine Fund, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Southern Utah's Coalition of Resources and Economics, and numerous other partners.
Funding for the project provided by The Peregrine Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Peter Pfendler, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Charles Engelhard Foundation, Arizona Fish and Game, Steve Martin and the Toledo Zoo, The Steele-Reese Foundation, Disney Wildlife Conservation Awards, Kearny Alliance, Patagonia, Philadelphia Foundation, S. Byers Trust, Globe Foundation, Conni Pfendler, Philanthropic Collaborative, Earth Friends, Steve Hoddy, Grand Canyon Conservation Fund, 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.
For more information, contact:
Director of Global Engagement
Bill Heinrich, The Peregrine Fund, 208/362-3811 office, 208/890-0163 cell
Susan MacVean, Arizona Game & Fish Department, 928/774-5045
David Boyd, Bureau of Land Management, 435/688-3303
Maureen Oltrogge, Grand Canyon Nationa