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Condor Culture

December 11, 2013

Captive-bred California Condors lack role models to show them how to survive in the wild. But wildlife biologists are there to help them navigate the modern world.



Condor survival skills.I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

California Condor with chick. (Joseph Brandt/Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

25 years ago, the California Condor was nearly extinct. An intensive captive breeding program saved the species. But young condors released into the wild don’t have many experienced birds around to show them the ropes. For instance, the birds bring animal bones back to their nests to provide their chicks with calcium. But captive-bred condors often substitute other hard objects like bottle caps and glass, which can kill the chicks. This according to Mike Wallace of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

MIKE WALLACE (San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research):

These young birds that don’t have any cultural transmission from their true parents in the wild, they’re learning as they go, and so, they’re picking up bad habits and we’re trying to break those habits.


That includes teaching young condors the difference between bones and trash before they’re released into the wild.


It seems to be changing in the culture of the condors over time.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society. 

Microtrash retrieved from California Condor nests. (Mike Wallace)