The four fledgling California condors at the Wild Animal Park’s condor release pen facility are all similar in appearance. They are large birds with a thick fringe of dark plumage that grows high up on their dark-skinned necks. The characteristic white wing lining, on the underside of the wing, is muted and appears nearly gray on these young birds. The fledges do not have the bold pink and yellow head so easily seen on adult birds; instead, their heads are a dark gray to black color. Both the white wing lining and the pink head will develop as the birds mature. (A juvenile condor is pictured above.)
To my eye, the fledges all look alike. Only the adult mentor in the group, the pink-headed Itaxme, is easily identified. How is the research team (see Suzanne’s blog, Clutches, Cohorts, and Condors) supposed to identify individuals to correctly record temperament indicators for each bird?
The answer is: wing tags! Condor keepers placed a large wing tag on each bird in the study that allows us to tell them apart. Thus, the research team now refers to our focal birds as Blue, Red, White, and Yellow. Itaxme also has a white wing tag, but she is easily identified from the juvenile White by looking for those adult hallmarks I mentioned above.
When the birds were first released from their nest boxes to the large flight pen they now inhabit, their immaturity was so evident to us. Youngsters fell off perches and bumped into things. Some alternated between fear of Itaxme and fascination with her. They played with their food items as much as they worked on eating them.
In the six weeks or so that have passed since the birds came together in the release pen, the personalities of the birds have become more fully developed. White is the clown of the group, always following her buddies, Red and Yellow. She instigates play with them, and if no one will play with her, she will play with sticks or old food items on her own. She has never shown a great fear of Itaxme, which may or may not be a good thing!
Blue, the lone male in the group, started off more reserved. For many weeks, he was always observed perched alone. He was easily intimidated by Itaxme and often avoided the other fledges as well. He was always the last in the group to feed, and usually only fed by himself. In the last two weeks, he appears to be settling in more, as I have seen him perched close to the other young birds and even engaged in social play with them.
Red and Yellow have been the ” middle ground” in condor behavior in this cohort. Usually somewhere in the fray when feeding or play is the activity of the moment, these birds also are more cautious and slow to act compared to White. Yellow is particularly reticent to make quick moves, and often appears to be studying the others before deciding to join into activities.
It has been so interesting to see how the behavior of these birds is evolving as they adapt to their new environment. We have several months to go before they leave the Park and head down to Baja California, Mexico, where they will eventually be released to the wild. Look for future updates to hear more about how this cohort is faring during this interesting time in their lives.
Happy holidays everyone!
Suzanne Hall is the senior research laboratory technician for the Giant Panda Conservation Unit of Applied Animal Ecology/CRES.
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