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11 Condors Arrive in Grand Canyon Aviary

Wildlife: Endangered birds were relocated in hopes they would breed, adding to numbers already in the area.

November 28, 2001|Associated Press

PHOENIX — Eleven California condors arrived at their new home Tuesday near the Grand Canyon where they will spend several months getting acclimated before wildlife officials release them into the wild.

The condors were transported from Idaho to Marble Canyon in northern Arizona on a U.S. Forest Service plane. From there they were taken to an aviary atop the Vermilion Cliffs, southwest of Lake Powell.

The disoriented condors were carried to the aviary in kennels and were skittish when they were let out, said Jeff Humphrey, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman.

Some bolted into the aviary while others needed coaxing. A couple of kennels had to be turned upside down to persuade the stubborn condors to come out, said Humphrey.

"They were just like little kids," he said. "When we first put them out there they didn't know how to behave, but they finally came out of the kennels and started exploring the aviary and their new perches."

Ten of the condors were hatched in May at a breeding facility in Boise, Idaho. The other condor is a female that had been in the wild but was recaptured last year because it was spending too much time around humans.

The condors will be kept in the aviary until they are strong enough and socially mature enough to be released, Humphrey said.

The release will increase the number of condors in the Grand Canyon area from 25 to 36.

"It is a step toward our goal of 150 self-sustaining birds," said Humphrey. "We're presently at a crossroads in that birds that are out there are attempting to reproduce."

Wildlife officials are trying to re-establish self-sufficient California condor populations in the wild. Only nine of the birds were living in the wild in 1984.

A captive breeding program has increased the overall population to about 190. Most remain in captivity, but about 57 are soaring over the mountains and canyons of California and Arizona.

California condors are still considered endangered as a species. No condors have been hatched in the wild since 1986.

Last year, a breeding pair produced an egg but it cracked. The birds' ability to survive on their own depends upon their success at breeding in the wild.

There are 12 condors in the wild in Arizona that are old enough to pair up, said William Burnham, president of the Peregrine Fund, a nonprofit conservation organization.

The aviary is exposed to the existing population of condors so young birds can be around older birds, which helps them mature.

"The new birds can start to look at them as big brother and big sister so they can use them as mentors when they do get out," said Humphrey. "Condors capitalize on being a social group."

Although the fledglings are at full size, and have about 10-foot wingspans, they will not reproduce until they are about 5 years old, said Humphrey.

"Upon initial sight, they are breathtaking, but at closer examination they look ancient and prehistoric," said Humphrey. "They are a sight to behold."

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