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Condors & Drones

February 12, 2014

Drone aircraft could help teach endangered California condors where to find food.



Circling in on conservation. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

800px-California-CondorDavid Clendenen US FWS

Young California Condors feeding on a carcass. (David Clendenen/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Wikipedia)


Vultures circling overhead means something’s dead or dying down below, confirms biologist Mike Wallace of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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

That proverbial image of a cowboy crawling through the desert with vultures circling overhead, it’s very very true.

Unfortunately, most California condors – which are a type of vulture – have never seen this for themselves. The birds went extinct in Baja California in the 1930s and are being re-introduced. Young condors have no role models to show them where to scavenge for food. Wallace’s solution? Drone aircraft.

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

You can program a fixed-wing drone to fly out to a specific GPS point and circle at an altitude that you prescribe.


Wallace thinks drones could eventually be used to lure the condors to the coast, where they’ll find plenty of dead marine mammals to sustain themselves. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

400px-Condor_in_flight.PhilArmitage public Domain Wiki

An adult California condor. (Phil Armitage/Public Domain/Wikipedia)