Lilya, On the Road

California Condors by Lilya Blue

Hello, Cedar and Silver fans and followers!

I’m excited to tell you everything about the Gymnogyps Californinus. The name Gymnogyps Californinus is Greek. Gymnogyps means “bare vulture,” and Californinus or California is the first place where people saw them. We will call the Gymnogyps Californinus by its commonly known name, which is the California Condor.

Think of this New World Vulture as a pre-historic airplane. Not only is their size significant, but their personalities are unmistakable. Peregrine Fund’s biologist, Jeff Grayum, says that the first thing that made him love condors was their individual and never repeated character. For example, when a condor comes to a gut pile, all the other birds know that one of the condors is the alfa and will back off.

Why I Love California Condors

In my opinion, California Condors are uniquely beautiful. Around spring, these condors have brilliantly colored heads. They are a mixture of reds, blues, yellows, pinks, and oranges. Although the adults have this coloring, the juveniles have dark brown or black heads. They have black plumage, and their fingertip feathers are about 2 1/2 feet. California Condors weigh about 25 pounds, and their wingspan can reach nearly 10 feet. Their feet are gray unless you catch them on a warm day. Whenever it is warm outside, they pee on their feet, which cools them off and gives their legs a white coloring.

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I think California Condors are the neatest birds. Don’t get me wrong; I love every bird. First, what captivated me was that the male and female bond for life. Plenty of other birds bond for life, but I didn’t know that at the time. Next, their history made my heart implode with inspiration. I’m sure it will do the same with yours.

Condors Need Our Help

In 1982, there were only 22 California Condors left in the world. They were mostly killed off by lead poisoning, egg collecting, poaching, and things of this nature. Of the many reasons, lead poisoning is the most significant contributor. Condors are scavengers, so they eat meat that other creatures killed or that died naturally. One of their primary sources of food is by hunters leaving their gut piles. Here’s a question. How many of those hunters used lead bullets? A bunch did and still do. The core of the bullets explode when they hit tissue, organs, or the bone of the animal, leading to lead fragmenting inside the animal, and lead can even make its way into the meat. Then the condor eats from that gut pile, along with the lead. A condor can get sick and even die from as little as one fragment in a single carcass. This is where many organizations step in to help.

These companies inform hunters around the California Condors habitats that this is killing off birds. Some also give out a package of copper bullets to each group of hunters. Most often, they don’t even go through a whole box in their life. This education works well because when you are informing as opposed to making a law or rule, you get better results. You can read more at www.huntingwithnonlead.org and www.nonleadpartnership.org

Condors only lay one egg every other year. If the egg dies or something takes it, the male and female will propagate once more. This process is called “double clutching.” Biologists used to take advantage of this by making them double clutch. They took eggs and raised the chicks with a puppet that looked like an adult California Condor. I wouldn’t say it is precisely like a condor, but I guess the condor chicks don’t see that. Organizations have stopped doing this; because that is the last resort. There are now enough birds in captivity that they can usually be raised by actual condors, which of course, is better.

Is It A California Condor?

Here are some tips for finding a condor. California Condor habitat ranges from parts of Baja, California, Northern Arizona, and Southern Utah. Condors are non-migratory, but they do however, have seasonal movements within their range, so they hop from place to place. Spotting the condors can be quite tricky unless you know what you are looking for. California Condors usually have tags, but a few don’t. California Condors also have white triangular patches under their wings. If you are lucky, they have a red spot on their chest called the “crop.” Condors store food in the crop to help feed their families.

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California Condor territory currently is in the west. The historic range for the California Condor is thought to be west of the Rockies except for two areas in NY and FL where fossil remains have been found. I believe the condors want to roam free, not be in one spot, but they must not spread their ranges, because their numbers are still pretty low. Currently, they are critically endangered.

California Condor Release

I have had one of the most insane experiences ever, at least, in my opinion. I watched the release of Condor 601 (Tag #01, if you meet him) from a site where they take California Condors that got hurt. First, Tim Hauck from the Peregrine Fund took us (me, Mom, Dad, and two volunteers, Alan and Michelle Clampitt) up a long bumpy road to the release site. Next, we toured the tiny cabin that the biologists stay in to observe the birds. I think it would be a cozy place to stay. It is about the size of our Airstream and holds a bed, a fireplace, a cabinet, a sink, and a few other things. Behind the cabin, there is a “shower” and a solar-powered toilet that Mr. Clampitt made (he is an engineer). There is an amusing picture of a condor’s rear in the bathroom.

We went to the place where the condor was. It looked like a big dog pen with a roof, a tree, a nest, and a cow for food. Mr. Hauck and Josh Young, another one of Peregrine Fund’s biologists, caught the condor some way or another and took a sample of his blood. They took the sample from the condor’s foot. Mr. Hauck handed it to me, and Mrs. Clampitt helped me put it into a test tube-like vessel. After that, I felt a little dizzy, and that is why I cannot and will not be a doctor.

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Next, Mr. Hauck took off the condor’s tag and replaced it with a new one. He gave me the old one. The only thing that could have made me happier was if I had an ice cream cone in my other hand. Mr. Hauck and Mr. Young put newly tagged condor #01 in a big dog crate. All the windows were blocked off, so the condor couldn’t see out. We walked down to a rock and Mr. Young opened the door of the kennel. All of us stood there, holding our breath as we waited for the condor to come out. A minute later, out came #01. He stood there for a moment as if to say, “Am I supposed to fly? Why am I not getting free food anymore? I want to stay, man!”

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After that, he took off. The other condors circling above us started flying after him, checking if he didn’t tell all of their secrets. Soon, they understood that he didn’t spill the beans, and they let him in. You couldn’t tell which condor he was out of the ten or so condors.

We went to a large boulder to eat our lunch. I had just gobbled down my sandwich when a condor swooped by. He was the oldest living California Condor in the southwest flock. I bet he had plenty of secrets to tell. He had secrets of life and death. Secrets of love and hate, of happiness and sadness, but most importantly, secrets of why we are all here.

Shout-outs: I just wanted to thank The Peregrine Fund and all of their awesome biologists for letting me have the experience of a lifetime! You folks are so kind and have inspired me much!

Resources: Wikipedia and The Peregrine Fund

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