Condor Survival

Or, how likely is a condor to survive from one year to the next, given the different things a condor does or does not do.  Understanding the things associated (or possibly affecting) a condor’s survival is key to managing them to optimize their chances of survival year after year.

Condors start breeding around 5 years of age (give or take – everyone is an individual!) so in order to replace itself, each generation a condor pair has to survive at least until they successful raise two chicks (or really a bit more than two to account for mortality).  Then, condors are believed to be able to live up to 70 years! (or more – who knows??) The current flock is made up of young individuals, with the oldest just barely approaching middle age (e.g., Orange 21, the southern flock patriarch, is ~36, while the senior birds in the central flock are only ~20). Eventually carcass gatherings should include long-lived individuals that win the survival lottery — bird equivalents of your great-grandma at the family reunion, passing on stories of where the best dead things are found, how to avoid those pesky ravens and so on.

Vickie Bakker (the lead author) and I as well as other members of our science team just published a paper on condor survival “Effects of lead exposure, flock behavior, and management actions on the survival of California condors (Gymnogyps californianus)” in the journal EcoHealth that is available via online first at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10393-015-1096-2

For those interested, here is the abstract that summarizes the paper:

“Translocation is an increasingly important tool for managing endangered species, but factors influencing the survival of translocated individuals are not well understood. Here we examine intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of survival for critically endangered California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) whose wild population recovery is reliant upon releases of captively bred stock. We used known fate models and information-theoretic methods to compare the ability of hypothesized covariates, most of which serve as proxies for lead exposure risk, to predict survival rates of condors in California. Our best supported model included the following predictors of survival: age of the recovery program, precipitation, proportion of days observed feeding on proffered carcasses, maximum blood lead concentration over the preceding 18 months, and time since release. We found that as flocks have increased in size and age, condors are increasingly likely to range more widely and less likely to be observed feeding on proffered food, and these “wilder” behaviors were associated with lower survival. After accounting for these behaviors, we found a positive survival trend, which we attribute to ongoing improvements in management. Our findings illustrate that the survival of translocated animals, such as highly social California condors, is influenced by behaviors that change through time.”

The main thing we found is that although managers are making progress in decreasing mortality risks for condors, the behaviors affecting survival most – such as feeding at the feeding stations where CW photos are taken – are also changing through time, and these changing behaviors tend to increase mortality risk for condors.  So, like most things in life, “it is complicated”.  As the flock has grown in size the birds are doing different things and this underscores the importance of CW to help us understand how a bird’s behavior at the free-food buffet (aka proffered feeding sites) is changing over time and affecting their survival and lead poisoning risk.  So, thank you to all you do on CW!

And of course, we can’t have a blog post without a photo of a condor – this is one of my favorites – taken by Gavin Emmons

condor with nestling

FYI – this paper will be part of a Supplementary Issue in EcoHealth on Health and Disease in Translocated Wild Animals that is a result of a symposium that I attended in the spring of 2015.  For more information on symposium see http://www.zsl.org/science/whats-on/health-and-disease-in-translocated-wild-animals.

 

Condors and Trash

Yes, condors, like other animals such as albatross, have been known to eat trash. In fact, trash ingestion was found to be the leading cause of death for wild condor nestlings in a study published in 2012 (Rideout et al., Journal of Wildlife Diseases).  Why condors ingest trash is unknown, but condor biologists think nestlings are exposed to trash items that have been brought back to the nesting area intentionally by their parents. (If you are interested to learn more about this topic, look up this paper “Why do condors and vultures eat junk: The implications for conservation” by Houston D, Mee A, McGrady M. published in the Journal of Raptor Research volume 41, pages 235-238 2007.)

We have seen condor nestlings ingest items such as coins, bottle caps and even a light bulb filament!

condor

In addition to digestive impaction, trash ingestion may have toxicological effects on condors. Zinc toxicosis associated with trash ingestion was determined to be the cause of death for one condor nestling, and in two other cases nestlings that died of trash ingestion had elevated liver copper concentrations.

Condors are routinely lead poisoned by ingesting lead fragments in carcasses shot with lead-based ammunition, but it has been less clear whether trash ingestion represented another source of lead poisoning. To address this question, some of our science team members and condor collaborators recently published a paper entitled:  “Lead Exposure Risk from Trash Ingestion by the Endangered California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)” in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.  Because ingested or potentially ingested trash accumulates in nest areas, we sampled items found in the vicinity of nests or removed from nestlings.

We found that the majority of lead-containing trash items were ammunition-related.  Out of 1,413 trash items collected from condor nest areas and nestlings in the Transverse Range of Ventura County, California USA, between 2002–2008, 27 items were found to have lead concentrations of potential toxicological concern.  Twenty-two of these 27 items were clearly ammunition-related (shotgun shell, casing, etc., see photos below) and only three of these items were clearly not ammunition-related (two items un-classifiable). Our results suggested that trash ingestion of non-ammunition items does not pose a significant lead exposure risk to the California condor population in California, but ingestion of ammunition-related trash could be of concern and efforts to minimize a condor’s exposure to ammunition-related trash are warranted.

Here are some representative photos of the lead containing items we found either in condor nest areas or nestlings (from the Supplement section of our published paper):

trash condor

Picture1

Metal items were categorized as ammunition-related if they were clearly identifiable as such with corroboration by a California Department of Fish and Wildlife Lieutenant and a retired Assistant Chief with a combined 48 years of experience in law enforcement (J. Nores, C. Babich). Items with a leachate lead concentration >1 µg/mL were classified as containing sufficient lead to be of potential toxicological concern and referred to as ‘lead-containing’.

And just because we can’t have a blog post without a condor photo, here is one of condor 107 (red7), proudly strutting his stuff in an area free of trash!

M2E79L233-233R370B333

Cheerio! Great week for classifying last week!

To all our fabulous CondorWatchers!  Thanks to you we had a great week last week with close to 3,000 classifications!  that is twice as many as the week before and almost 3x as many as the week before that!

So, in honor of your hard work, I am resurrecting the fabulous red7 photo that our talented Wreness did for our one year anniversary!

flower frame

Lets try for another record week and, as Wreness would say “Keep on carrion”!

 

A Condor’s life – a guest blog by Devon Pryor

Condors are extremely social creatures which makes them so interesting to observe, as you Condor Watchers can relate! Conveniently for us in the field, condors are diurnal and most active during midday as winds and thermals create favorable conditions for extended soaring flights. In the early morning hours, condors can typically be observed leisurely preening and sunning from their roosts atop tall trees or cliffs. It is common to see condors roosting together, whether it is on the same branch, in the same tree, or in a neighboring tree. The old adage, “safety in numbers”, is certainly true when it comes to condors. At communal roost sites, you can often expect to see frenzied activity at sunset as the birds compete for the most favorable or highest roost. Usually, the older and more dominant condors win the most coveted perches and any condor forced to perch below them will wake up covered in excrement. Such is the life of a lowly juvenile! As the sun rises the next morning and weather heats up, condors will begin launching one after the other from their roost sites to forage, fly back to a known carcass, or travel back to a nesting territory.

This leisurely behavior and social hierarchy often extends to communal feeding sites as well. Younger condors are often forced to wait their turn at a carcass while older or more dominant birds get their fill. In this situation, juveniles can be observed laying down and socializing with each other by entwining necks, allo-preening, and wrestling. Some of us in southern California call this a condor huddle puddle :). Other times, condors will loaf around or preen on the ground after feeding as long as they don’t feel threatened. We often see this at baited trap sites, where the motion-activated cameras have been installed, because it is a common and familiar source of food. Socialization in the condor world is extremely important for individuals to practice and be fluent in “condor” language, body language or otherwise, so that they can operate and function in the community flock. Among other things, the motion-activated cameras provide us with snapshots of behavior and social interactions which help give us insight into the complex condor community.

Devon Pryor was formerly a Biological Science Technician with the US Fish Wildlife Service, working on the condor program. She continues to work with condors in her current position as Conservation and Research Associate at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Condors, Lead poisoning and Stress- guest blog by Zeka Kuspa

Last Thursday I spent a whole day in Big Sur collecting poop samples from California condors. Why on earth am I doing this dirty work? Let me explain…

Numerous studies have found that lead poisoning from ingestion of spent lead ammunition is the primary cause of death in free-flying California condors. But what is happening to the condors that survive repeated lead exposures? I want to understand the potential adverse health effects of lead which may be accumulating in these individuals, as well as the potential impacts of these effects on survival and reproduction in the wild. Specifically I am interested in how chronic lead exposure can alter the response to stressors in the environment. Corticosterone, one of the hormones released during the condor stress response, is responsible for freeing up energetic resources for surviving a stressor and then storing energy stores for future recovery from that stressful event. In humans and other mammals, lead has been shown to impact the same brain region as chronic stress, and lead exposure can cause lasting alterations to the release patterns of corticosterone. In lead-exposed individuals the stress hormone can either be chronically elevated when no stressor is present, or the magnitude of change in hormone concentrations in response to a stressor is elevated, resulting in more corticosterone being released. This abnormal corticosterone release pattern can lead to changes in behavior, and inappropriate allocation of energy stores, both of which could impact the survival and/or reproductive output of these endangered birds.

So why condor poop? To assess the effects of lead on the condor stress response, I’ve been collecting blood, fecal, and feather samples from birds with different histories of lead exposure. Each sample type represents a different time scale of stress hormone released in response to a handling event: blood corticosterone is a direct and instantaneous measure of hormones in circulation, fecal corticosterone metabolites show a delay in elevation due to the time it takes for hormones to be eliminated via the gut, and feathers represent a longer-term integration of corticosterone release over 4-5 days. By looking at stress hormone responses in all three sample types, I will get a better overall picture of how the stress response might be altered in condors that have been exposed to lead more than others. As my experimental stressor, I use the capture and handling events already taking place for blood lead monitoring of the central California flock.

condor health check

condor undergoing a health check

 

sampling kennel

kennel for collecting condor poop

collecting poop

me collecting condor fecal samples

In order to collect fecal samples in a clean and timely manner with minimal stress to the condor, I developed a sampling kennel (pictured above) with a removable tray. This has allowed me to get sequential samples from individual birds and then map out and condor’s stress response to a handling event over time. I will collect enough samples to statistically compare stress response magnitudes in relation to individual lead exposure histories.

The free-flying condor population provides a unique opportunity to study this sub-lethal effect of lead since so much is known about each individual due to an intensive monitoring program, of which CondorWatch is an integral part!

Happy 1 Year Anniversary CondorWatch!

We want to give a huge THANK YOU to all the dedicated CondorWatchers who have helped us reach almost 340,000 classifications!  We also would like to commemorate this time with a little recognition of the condors that we lost over the last year as well as some of the new birds that have come to join the free-flying California population.

A big THANK YOU to wreness (our moderator extraordinaire) for her help compiling these photos and information and of course all she does for CondorWatch! 

We had five chicks that fledged from the wild in 2014,  including the unknown “Mystery”, who became famous for showing up for lunch one day at the Ventana Wildlife Society.   (http://www.ventanaws.org/)

And the best news yet – a record 16 pairs of condors have made nests in CA so far in 2015!  So, lets hope we have a record number of wild-fledged chicks in 2015!

And now the sad part — free-flying condors we lost this year from California:

We see them so frequently in the photos – sometimes 6 years in their lives – and they get to be familiar faces.   It is always heartbreaking to see in a condor’s Bio that it has died from lead poisoning but hits harder when you have seen this bird in hundreds of photos.   We sincerely appreciate your to help compiling data that can add a new tool to the arsenal in treating these condors before it’s too late.

So, in Memory for these majestic birds (15 of them total) that we lost from the free-flying California population since CondorWatch launched:

*Orange63 (63 Male)    5/8/1991 – 9/28/2014   Age 23   cause of death: trauma – predation

Orange63

*Red25   (125 Male)     6/2/1995 – 7/18/2014   Age 18 years   cause of death: bobcat predation

Condor #125 hatched at the San Diego Safari Park in 1995 and was released the following year. He was an 18 year-old breeding male that had been paired with female condor #111 since 2003.   He paired with #111 eleven times over twelve years, making them the longest lasting and most prolific pair of condors in the southern California flock.   Despite many nest failures early on in their relationship, they successfully fledged four chicks.   Three of their four offspring are currently flying in the SoCal population

Red25

*400 (Female) –   wore tags: Black0 Underline, White0, White 00     4/11/2006 – 4/292014   8 years   cause of death: lead poisoning

400

*401 (Male) wore tags: Black 01 Underline, White 1     4/13/2006 – 6/15/2014 8 years  cause of death: lead poisoning

A true fighter, 401 was treated for lead poisoning at least five times including surviving being shot with lead bird shot.   The last and fatal poisoning event ended his life.   The whole story can be read on our blog here http://blog.condorwatch.org/2014/10/28/the-tragic-fate-of-condor-401/

401

*White11 (411 Male)     4/26/2006 – 12/6/14       cause of death: undetermined;, scavenged remains

411

*White44 (444 “Ventana”)   5/5/2007 – 8/26/2014  cause of death:  lead poisoning

#444 was known as “Ventana”   to the many condor spotters who searched the skies with their binoculars,   She was hatched from an egg laid at the Los Angeles Zoo and was the first to be raised in the wild by condor foster parents.

444

Also lost in the last year: Eight condors aged 3 weeks to almost 3 years of age to factors such as predation, trauma, and a few pending cases.

So, we would like to take a moment to remember these birds but also to thank you for all your efforts gathering data to help California condors become a healthy free-flying population in California and beyond!  We really do appreciate all you do so keep on carrion (as wreness would say)!

The Science Team

 

 

 

 

 

And the Winners for The Best 2014 Photo Contest are (drum roll please)….

We have the results from our Best of 2014 Condor Watch Photo Contest – thanks to our very own amazingly talented wreness!

We’d like to thank everyone who sent in all their favorite photo entries for the contest! We wish we could have had 4th and 5th and even 9th place winners – as it is we had several Ties! Most of all a huge Thank You Everyone who has taken their time not only to classify these photos for the project but who take the time to call attention to all the amazing and wonderful things found within them. Entire stories unfold with every new photo. Some have made us cry, some laugh, and some go “what?!”

Below are a few of the science team’s favorites, but please go to these links to view all the winners:

Condorwatch talk:  http://talk.condorwatch.org/#/boards/BCW0000004/discussions/DCW00003xy

The direct Photobucket page with the Contest album photos is:   http://s1381.photobucket.com/user/Condor_Watch/library/2014%20Photo%20Contest%20Winners

Direct link to the contest photo album with all the sheets:  http://s1381.photobucket.com/user/Condor_Watch/library/2014%20Photo%20Contest%20Winners/2014%20Photo%20Contest%20Winners-Sheets

 

1st place winner most beautiful condor

1st Place Winner Most Beautiful Condor

1st place winner - funniest photo

1st Place Winner – Funniest Photo

featured guest shot - best something else

Featured Guest Best Something Else

Best condor lining up for a golf shot

Best:: Condor Lining up for a Golf Shot

1st place winner - best cooperating condors  clearest tags

1st Place Winner – Best Cooperating Condors – Clearest Tags

 

CondorWatch photo contest extended until Jan 30th!

Hi everyone!  Due to some technical difficulties with the infamous “White Screen” – we have extended the First Annual Best 2014 CondorWatch Photos Contest until January 30th at 8pm Central Time, USA.

Here are the categories and instructions again, for your convenience.

Have fun everyone and as wreness our wonderful moderator extraordinaire would say “Carrion!”

Categories:

1} Most Beautiful Condor Photo

2} Most Beautiful Condors photo (more than one in a photo)

3} Best Action Photo (Condors)

4} Best “Something Else” Photo

5} Best “What The Heck Is That?” Photo

6} Best Coyote(s)

7} Most Disgusting Photo (oh we know what that will be)

8} Best Eagle

9} Best Turkey Vulture(s)

10} Funniest Photo

11} Best Cooperating Birds –  Clearest Tags

12}  Craziest Ravens

13} Best Photo Bomb

14} Happiest/Proudest Condor

15} Condor(s) With The Worst Attitude

16} What Were They Thinking?

17} BONUS CATEGORY!
Find a Funny, Bizarre or Strange Photo and Give It Your Own Category

The Scientists will then pick the winners based on if you Amuse And Entertain them and make them spit their coffee out of their noses, laughing. (No vulgarity! Behave or else!)

How to Instructions:

Look though the photos on the CondorWatch site to find your favorites for the listed categories below. You may enter 3 photos per category.

When you find the photos you want to enter, copy and paste the IMAGE NUMBER of the photo, found in the upper left corner of each photo) next to the category, next to the category:

Img1

An example, then, of an entry for Best action Photo might look like:

3} Best action Photo:

Image ACW00045qp
Image ACW0003rgr
Image  ACW00051jk

The Image number we ask you to enter comes from the entire URL of the Zooniverse page that the image is on. For example http://talk.condorwatch.org/#/subjects/ACW00045qp would be the first entry’s page.

When you’re done with your list of entries send your completed list, via the Zoo Talk message system, to CondorWatch Moderator wreness

You can find the best photos of the site in the CondorWatch Citizen Scientist’s Collections, since they have been saving all the great photos the last 8 months CondorWatch has been on Zoo! Click on a person’s name to go to their Profile Page and at the very bottom are their Collections. Names can be found on the message board posts and photo comments and also be found using the Search feature. The Image numbers can be seen in the bottom right corner each Collection thumbnail photo but they can be clicked to open up to full size but you can look through the whole Collection by magnifying your page and noting the Image Numbers this way.

Img2

On the upper right side of the Collection page is a scroll bar to forward though the pages. You can also use the SEARCH feature at the top of the page to look for specific animals. This will only work once (the search feature doesn’t work too well right now) so to use multiple times, Refresh the entire page then re-enter your search word to use again.

Announcing the First Annual Best 2014 CondorWatch Photos Contest

2014 marks the first year CondorWatch joined Zooniverse and we would like to take the opportunity to thank all the Citizen Scientists who put in all the time and hard work tirelessly squinting into their monitors at carcasses, unidentified parts, angry pigs, various butts, tipped camera angles, vicious battles, fog and yes!  beautiful condors  to classify the data for us.

Who could have imagined the incredible variety of situations, animals and emotions the cameras have captured?

To celebrate we’d like to invite you to take part in helping find what you think were the Best Photos of 2014 for the CondorWatch Photo Contest. Woohoo!

These are the categories for the photos. We hope they capture the majesty of the condors and also the humor that abounds on the site.

Categories:

1} Most Beautiful Condor Photo

2} Most Beautiful Condors photo (more than one in a photo)

3} Best Action Photo (Condors)

4} Best “Something Else” Photo

5} Best “What The Heck Is That?” Photo

6} Best Coyote(s)

7} Most Disgusting Photo (oh we know what that will be)

8} Best Eagle

9} Best Turkey Vulture(s)

10} Funniest Photo

11} Best Cooperating Birds –  Clearest Tags

12}  Craziest Ravens

13} Best Photo Bomb

14} Happiest/Proudest Condor

15} Condor(s) With The Worst Attitude

16} What Were They Thinking?

17} BONUS CATEGORY!
Find a Funny, Bizarre or Strange Photo and Give It Your Own Category

The Scientists will then pick the winners based on if you Amuse And Entertain them and make them spit their coffee out of their noses, laughing. (No vulgarity! Behave or else!)

How to Instructions:

Look though the photos on the CondorWatch site to find your favorites for the listed categories below. You may enter 3 photos per category.

When you find the photos you want to enter, copy and paste the IMAGE NUMBER of the photo, found in the upper left corner of each photo) next to the category, next to the category:

Img1

An example, then, of an entry for Best action Photo might look like:

3} Best action Photo:

Image ACW00045qp
Image ACW0003rgr
Image  ACW00051jk

The Image number we ask you to enter comes from the entire URL of the Zooniverse page that the image is on. For example http://talk.condorwatch.org/#/subjects/ACW00045qp would be the first entry’s page.

When you’re done with your list of entries send your completed list, via the Zoo Talk message system, to CondorWatch Moderator wreness

You can find the best photos of the site in the CondorWatch Citizen Scientist’s Collections, since they have been saving all the great photos the last 8 months CondorWatch has been on Zoo! Click on a person’s name to go to their Profile Page and at the very bottom are their Collections. Names can be found on the message board posts and photo comments and also be found using the Search feature. The Image numbers can be seen in the bottom right corner each Collection thumbnail photo but they can be clicked to open up to full size but you can look through the whole Collection by magnifying your page and noting the Image Numbers this way.

Img2

On the upper right side of the Collection page is a scroll bar to forward though the pages. You can also use the SEARCH feature at the top of the page to look for specific animals. This will only work once (the search feature doesn’t work too well right now) so to use multiple times, Refresh the entire page then re-enter your search word to use again.

Contest runs from Dec. 31th to Jan 10th (midnight CT USA)

Winners will be announced on the message boards on Jan 13th and shared elsewhere ASAP also! Please enter only once.

Most of all, have fun and as always, carrion!

Thank you for all your wonderful work and ideas this year. We couldn’t be where we are without you!

Sharing your hard work with the world!

Dai with Condor Poster

Dr. Shizuka enthusiastically spreads the word about Condor Watch and the amazing contributions of our citizen scientists.

This Fall, Condor Watch researchers, Dr. Daizaburo Shizuka (University of Nebraska, Lincoln)  and Dr. Alexandra Rose (University of Colorado, Boulder) presented a poster on Condor Watch to over 900 Ornithologists (i.e. professional bird nerds!) at the joint meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union, the Cooper Ornithological Society, and the Society of Canadian Ornithologists.

The title of our poster was “CONDOR WATCH: Improving management of one of the world’s most endangered species with Citizen Science.” And it was extremely well-received. Our colleagues were excited to hear about how we’re using volunteers to help us extract valuable data about condor behavior from the thousands of photographs we’ve posted on line. We brought our iPads and showed people how to make classifications of images and some of the neat features of the site, like Talk. The poster featured a little history on the condor and the current threats to the species, as well as some statistics on how much progress we’ve made on analyzing the images, and some preliminary results based on early data from your work. One of the most fun parts of presenting the poster was talking to professors who might use Condor Watch in their Ornithology classes. What better way to teach students about condors–wonderful, charismatic birds that most people will never see outside a zoo.

Click here to see a pdf file of our poster! Condor Poster

 

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