Our California condor behavior study aims to follow a cohort of young captive birds to assess their temperament and deduce any clues that might help us predict their likelihood of success in the wild (see Suzanne’s previous blog, Comments on Condors). There are four fledglings in the cohort, all of which were hatched in March or April of this year. These birds are all puppet-reared, which means they were removed as eggs from their parental nest.
Egg removal is a method by which California condor population managers are able to increase the number of condors born annually. The adult condor pair typically lays one large egg in a nest, and both adults will contribute to the rearing of the chick for about 18 months. In managed care, however, the population can get an extra boost if the females are encouraged to lay more than one egg per season. By removing her first egg, she often will double-clutch: she’ll breed again, and lay a second egg about 60 days after the first. The second egg can then be left for its parents to foster, but the first egg must be hand reared.
Hand-reared condors at the Wild Animal Park are fed and nurtured via a puppet that resembles an adult condor (as shown in photo above). Human sounds and smells are minimized as much as possible to retain the appearance of an authentic condor nesting environment. This is done primarily to ensure that the birds grow up with appropriate condor responses to their world and are not imprinted on or are fearless of humans. This will serve them better when they are released to the wild.
The young birds we are currently observing fledged from their artificial nests in October and November and were released into a pen with an adult mentor bird, whose job it is to ensure the youngsters learn proper condor etiquette in a group of real, live birds. Normally, fledges of this age would still be with their parents, so the opportunity to mix with others of their kind in close quarters allows for the expression of many of the social behaviors they would naturally exhibit. The young birds have been observed grooming and playing with each other, and even snuggle with one another on occasion.
The pen where the fledgling cohort resides is in an off-exhibit area of the Park, far removed from the hub of daily activity. The road I use to access the birds ends in a parking area about 150 meters from the facility entrance; this is to reduce the sounds of automobiles in close proximity to the birds. There is a fence running along the walkway to the facility that precludes any visual access to the birds from where I enter; again, this prevents the birds from seeing me up close. When I observe, I am in an enclosed blind with tinted windows so that the birds do not see or hear me. I listen to them via microphones installed in their pen before their release from the nests. In this way, we maintain the illusion for the birds that they are isolated from people.
In my next blog on the subject I will tell you a bit about the four fledges and what kinds of behavior we have seen with them since their release to the outdoor pen they now call home.
Suzanne Hall is a senior research laboratory technician for Giant Panda Conservation Unit, Applied Animal Ecology Division/CRES.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Comments are currently closed. Pinging is not allowed.