Four of the nine California Condors being held atop the 1,000-foot Vermilion Cliffs north of the Grand Canyon were released this morning. At 7:00 a.m., Peregrine Fund biologists lifted the door of the condor pen and the birds cautiously hopped from their shelter and onto the lip of the cliff. As the last bird emerged, all four unfolded their 9-foot wings to initiate their maiden flights. Peregrine Fund biologists, Mark Vekasy and Shawn Farry, reported that the "the four made a number of short flights and are now perched on the talus slope near the base of the cliff."
The nine condors have been held in a netted adjustment pen since shortly after they were transported from the Los Angeles Zoo to the Bureau of Land Management administered cliff site on 29 April 1997. The four most subordinate condors were selected for release today with the hope that they will socialize more easily with the existing birds. The remaining captive birds will be released after biologists evaluate their behavior, weather conditions and the results of today's release.
The two-year old condors are the oldest to be released in the wild. Since older, more mature birds could immediately soar greater distances than their younger counterparts did when released last December, biologists chose to release them in small batches. "By releasing these birds a few at a time, it will give them the opportunity to gradually assimilate with the existing population.
The younger condors have performed well since their release last December; these older birds could learn much from the existing birds as the two groups begin to socialize" said Bill Heinrich, Species Restoration Manager of The Peregrine Fund. The Peregrine Fund is a non-profit conservation organization conducting the release in northern Arizona.
Since December, the five original condors have greatly extended their range. They have soared below the north rim of the Grand Canyon and been spotted over Lake Powell and Page, Arizona. Each of the five condors regularly returns to the Vermilion Cliffs and has inspected the new arrivals. Researchers will continue to monitor the condors' movements and study how the groups interact and assimilate.
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