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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

HOPPER MOUNTAIN NWRC: Semi-Annual California Condor Health Check-up Event a Success

Region 8, December 5, 2012
Hopper Mountain NWRC Biological Science Technicians Devon Lang Pryor and Katie Chaplin check for growing wing feathers.
Hopper Mountain NWRC Biological Science Technicians Devon Lang Pryor and Katie Chaplin check for growing wing feathers. - Photo Credit: n/a
Deputy Project Leader John Bradley (Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR) holds condor #457 while Wildlife Biologist Laura Mendenhall attaches a radio transmitter to one of his tail feathers.
Deputy Project Leader John Bradley (Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR) holds condor #457 while Wildlife Biologist Laura Mendenhall attaches a radio transmitter to one of his tail feathers. - Photo Credit: n/a
Deputy Project Leader Nick Stanley (Kern NWRC) and Hopper Mountain NWRC Intern Jerry Cole hold a juvenile condor.
Deputy Project Leader Nick Stanley (Kern NWRC) and Hopper Mountain NWRC Intern Jerry Cole hold a juvenile condor. - Photo Credit: n/a
A newly released juvenile California condor.
A newly released juvenile California condor. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Devon Pryor, Biological Science Technician

Fall is a busy and exciting time of year at Bitter Creek and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuges. It is during the fall months that captive reared juvenile California condors are released into the wild at Bitter Creek NWR. It is also the time when all free-flying condors in the Southern California population are trapped in order to perform routine health examinations, replace wing identification tags and radio transmitters, as well as check blood-lead levels.

The annual fall trap-up coincides with the end of the local deer rifle hunting season. Lead poisoning, most often caused by ingesting carrion shot with lead ammunition, is the leading cause of death for wild California condors. When U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists handle a condor that has been trapped, the first thing they do is take a blood sample in order to run a lead test in the field to determine its blood-lead level. If a condor’s blood-lead level is elevated, it is transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo for chelation treatment. Depending on the severity of exposure, the treatment can take a week to months. If the condor survives the episode of lead poisoning, it will be released back into the wild.

On December 5, Hopper Mountain NWRC biologists processed eight condors during the third of many “work-ups” that occur weekly until every bird in the population has been trapped. However, this day was unique because we were joined by fellow Service employees from Kern National Wildlife Refuge and Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The visiting Service staff assisted in holding the eight condors while the Hopper Mountain NWRC biologists drew blood, replaced identification tags, attached radio transmitters, and checked for growing feathers. After approximately twenty minutes of being handled, each condor except for one was re-released at Bitter Creek NWR. Unfortunately, one of the eight condors had an elevated blood-lead level and was immediately transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment.

After holding California condor #457 (a five year-old male), John Bradley, deputy project leader at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, remarked “the bird in hand is so warm and vibrating with energy!” The excitement of the visiting staff reminds all of us how fortunate we are to have a job that we are so passionate about.

Contact Info: Devon Pryor, 805-644-5185, Devon_Pryor@fws.gov