Hoots, Howls, and Hollers – May 23, 2023
A Rescue of Monumental Proportions
The scene: The red rocks of the Vermilion Cliffs, Grand Canyon, Arizona.
The situation: Condor 319, a female of breeding age entered her cliff nest and remained there for a few days. We know this because the endangered species are all fitted with tracking monitors, and the telemetry documented her activities along with all her fellow precious California condors at the Grand Canyon. This stationary behavior in the spring indicated that she might well be sitting on an egg! Two days later, she left the nest and telemetry indicated she was acting strangely. She was possibly another victim of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu that was decimating others of the Southwest flock of endangered California condors.
(Here the GPS tracking monitor is affixed to the shoulder of a condor.)
The solution: She was captured and sent, very ill, to our rehabilitation facility where 8 days later she sadly succumbed to the HPAI infection. Her mate, condor #680, was not leaving the cave, and it was assumed that she had laid an egg in the time she was in the cave. Now, when she did not return, he was valiantly trying to incubate it by himself.
Biologists monitoring the situation believed that not only was it dangerous for him to remain in the dank, dark, cool cave (a mecca for the avian flu virus), but it would be impossible for him to incubate and feed himself sufficiently to stay alive. And his instinct to care for the egg would likely push him to risk his own life. To avoid the potential loss of a second known breeder, it was decided to take the egg when the male left for a quick trip to hopefully find food.
The “rescue” was the only solution to a very bad situation. The egg was then mindfully removed from the cave, careful not to disturb a growing chick if the egg turned out to be viable. From the canyon rim, the egg was transferred to Flagstaff where a Liberty Wildlife volunteer, armed with a warmed brooder, would transfer the egg back to the Liberty Wildlife hospital in Phoenix.
Upon arrival, a quiet room away from the busy traffic in the hospital was set up with the necessities to hopefully hatch an egg. It was kept at a consistent temperature relative to the stage of development. The humidity was constantly monitored, and it was systematically turned as a mother would do while incubating. And weekly our team “candled” the egg to reveal a growing chick.
Now deemed viable, we waited for pipping to begin. A chick in an egg lives off the yolk attached by three umbilical cords, and she breaths the air from the air sack. It all makes sense when you think about it. When the food and air become exhausted by the growing chick it starts the unbelievable journey of pecking its way out. But our baby was not situated normally… sometimes it happens, just like when a human baby is born breach… but with the advice of experts at the LA Zoo propagation department, and our skilled team of veterinarians, Dr. Lamb and Dr. Goe, the happy day came and the chick was free.
I don’t want to make this sound easy. It wasn’t. It was a challenge for the chick, and a nerve-wracking experience as we all collectively held our breath, too. But it happened and the little chick became free to fill its lungs with new and plentiful air while we all breathed a sigh of relief.
(The fledgling condor spent her first week of life in the care of the team at Liberty Wildlife.)
Welcome to the world little girl. And yes, tests showed that she was free of any signs of avian flu and later tests indicated that we indeed had a girl. What a blessing that she will replace her mom if all goes well.
(The care team at Liberty Wildlife took normal precautions to avoid imprinting the little hatchling, while carefully monitoring her health and regular feeding.)
This is special for so many reasons…11 of the condors who were struck down by the flu were breeding age females. Condors don’t start to breed until they are 6 to 8 years-old and they only lay an egg every other year. So, to replace those lost from the HPAI virus is a process that will take time…a lot of time, and for a species in danger that is not a good thing. So, rescuing this egg and successfully hatching it was a major accomplishment, and a moment of hope in a difficult year.
Now, the next phase has started. She was flown (under the supervision of Liberty Wildlife lead veterinarian Stephanie Lamb) on a small private plane to the Peregrine Fund’s propagation facility in Boise, where she was introduced to her new adoptive condor parents and was immediately accepted as one of their own. Birds have a way of doing that if they are known breeders…like I have said before…they are hard wired in most cases to do the “right thing by this little helpless baby.”
The hopeful outcome: She will experience all the milestones that she would have, had she not been orphaned. It is our greatest hope that she successfully reaches the ultimate stage and is released back into the skies near the Grand Canyon that she was meant to inhabit… and that she later will find a suitable mate and will contribute to the continuation of this grand species. That is our hope for her and for all of us.
This was a rescue, necessitated by no fault of her own or her parents. This was a rescue that has ended up stoking the growth of hope in an otherwise dismal year for her species…hope for a long and productive life….hope for the future of California condors.
(California condors at the Grand Canyon. Photo from Grand Canyon Visitor Center.)
This Week @ Liberty – May 9, 2023
Vacation is all fun and games until you get back and the wind has ravaged through Phoenix without a care in the world for the people and wildlife in its path. Along with the heat, we have seen a significant increase in intakes for the year (more on that later); but not to fret, staff and volunteers alike are ready. Orphan Care is in full swing responding to all the nestlings displaced by these desert breezes; new Medical Service volunteers are getting tons of hand on experience learning how to handle and help injured wildlife; Daily Care is handling new birds being moved around and keeping it cool in this heat…it’s the busy season for sure, and we’ve been ready for it since last year’s record numbers!
It’s quite a journey for all of us here at Liberty Wildlife, with all kinds of different stories to share. I wish I could share them all; mine are minute in the grand scheme of things. Still, I am grateful to be able to share them, and even more so to have our wonderful blog audience who are equally excited about what we do.
American Kestrels: Tiny but Mighty
As the smallest Falcon in the Americas, it’s easy to miss seeing these tiny, but fierce, predators. They come in a bundle of white, fluffy feathers, and just as quickly grow some of the most colorful plumage you’ll see in the raptor species. In fact, American Kestrels are one of the only birds of prey in the world you can tell the difference between a male and a female based on the colors of their feathers (it’s known as sexual dimorphism). While there’s a few different indications, the easiest are the wings—males have steel gray blue, while the females are rufous brown.
They are also second cavity nesters; it’s up to the male to find leftover woodpecker nests, cavities in trees or saguaros, or even rock crevices to nest. Once he does, he shows his mate, and she alone makes the final say. Which means if she doesn’t like, then he has to start all over again.
And while the hatchlings don’t stay long (anywhere from twenty-eight to thirty-one days), American Kestrels are fiercely protective of their young. About ninety percent of nestlings make it to adulthood thanks to their parents who are absolutely willing to go against Harris hawks and Red-Tail hawks to defend their kin.
They’ve adapted well to city life, too. I bet you’ve even seen one without realizing it on a hike or out for a drive. Look for a lone bird perched up high, usually by themselves, with a tail that likes to flick and a head that likes to bob. The dive quick—about sixty miles and hour! —and like to catch prey, like mice and shrews, on the ground…which means you may even spot them there, too!
Chihuahuan Ravens: Bongo and Sirius
When you see or think about Ravens, the most typical one is the Common Raven. But, low and behold, there is another variety, the Chihuahuan Raven, that’s just as smart and feisty, but it can be hard to tell the difference if you’re not sure what to look for.
Where Common Ravens tend to be in forested areas that are higher in elevation, Chihuahuan Ravens can be found in desert areas that are lower in elevation. Chihuahuan Ravens also tend to be smaller than their brethren, with white bases on their body feathers rather than the grey of the Common Ravens. This time of year, they’ll nest in grasslands and deserts, and trees like mesquite (and my favorite, the acacia).
If you’ve been here for public hours, I’m sure you’ve seen Bongo and Sirius, our resident Chihuahuan Ravens. They’re full of vigor, and likely to be heard saying hi or calling loudly to get your attention. Their stories are not entirely unfamiliar to us, either. Bongo came to us in 2019 with a deformed foot—likely due to malnutrition from the person who had him—and after several operations to try and fix it, could not be repaired.
Sirius is one of our newest ‘recruits’; having only been here a few months, he came from another rehab facility (transfers like this happen). Like some of our other animal ambassadors, he’s imprinted: he recognizes us as his ‘people’ rather than his own kind, which makes him living in the wild extremely difficult.
Either way, these two are a riot to watch. They have big personalities, and are just as happy to show off for visitors as the rest of our ambassadors.
Baby Season Has Hit!
If I haven’t said it enough, I’m going to say it again and again and again…busy season has hit! On Wednesday, May 17th, we took in 97 animals in one day (yes, you read that correctly), and it’s been a whirlwind since. Our most notable intakes have been:
- seven nestling Barn Owls who were found in a not so great location and had to be removed (hence why they’re here with us and currently with foster parents);
- several Great Horned owl kids, some of which have stayed inside to get a little bigger and others have been placed with foster parents;
- a nestling Bridled Titmouse (which we don’t see too often) makes a stop and is super hungry, to boot;
- a nestling (almost fledgling) Western Screech Owl was found on the ground, and rescuers were unable to find his nest;
There’s a lot of different reasons you may find a kid on the ground. Right now, the heat may drive them to fledge a little early, and the wind has been something else this past week (which also pushes them out of the nest). If you happen upon a baby bird, make sure to take a look and see if you can find a nest. If you can, and it’s safe for you to place the baby back, you can absolutely do so (if you see an injury, please make sure to bring him to us any day of the week between 8am-6pm).
Either way, we appreciate your watchful eye and your commitment to helping Arizona’s native wildlife. We couldn’t do what we do without your help!
Every year, I say I’m ready for the heat, and every year, I realize I’m a liar. Regardless, summer is here, and those hot temperatures are only going to get hotter. Remember that Liberty Wildlife’s Public Hours have shifted – we are now open 9am-11am, but we still want to see you here! We don’t have any scheduled pop-up programs, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see some of your favorites, so come out to say hi.
Without further ado, here are this week’s notable mentions!
Cheese and Quackers take a quick dip (1 picture – by Ceci)
New Medical Service volunteer Becky learns from veteran Susie on how to wrap a wing (1 picture)
Volunteer veterinarian Dr. Goe hangs with two students during some of our busy shifts (2 pictures)
Zorro the Osprey hangs in the shade (1 picture – by Ceci)
A Long-Eared Owl makes a game of hide-and-seek seem pretty hard! (1 picture)
Bert the Northern Bobwhite Quail hangs with some more kids (I won’t ever get tired of taking this little dude’s photo) (2 pictures)
Thanks so much for reading the blog and hanging with us week after week.
Until next time!
Posted by Acacia Parker
Public Outreach Coordinator