This year marks the first time in over a century that a California condor has landed on Yurok ancestral grounds. As a result of the plane’s harsh landing, Condor 746 became agitated. The three-hour drive to the tribe’s newly constructed condor facility in Redwood National Park bounced him around in a huge dog box.
In the end, it was a tall wire mesh enclosure with log perches and a drinking pool that he entered. Condor 746, at eight years old, has a brilliant pink head instead of the black one typical on young birds. One of the birds of prey on loan from a breeding facility in Idaho is this bald-headed hawk. The four young birds he’ll be mentoring in Yurok country will be the first members of a newly formed condor organisation.
It is because condors are so sociable that we have mentors,” Joe Burnett, the Ventana Wildlife Society’s California Condor Recovery Program Manager, adds. When young birds are kept in a cage without an adult, they tend to act out. This is what Burnett refers to as “the Lord of the Flies syndrome.” For the flock’s survival, he and his colleagues rapidly discovered that release programmes require an adult role model who can enforce the flock’s social hierarchy.
In the span of a few days following the arrival of 746, Condor A0, a two-year-old, was allowed to fly. First, she focused on 746, who was perched on a ledge. By checking out the food—the carcass of a stillborn calves—A0 realised that she was safe and then fluffed up her feathers, which is a sign of contentment among birds. Followed closely by A1, A2, and A3—all juvenile male condors. The young condors had been living together for months in other condor facilities in Boise, Idaho, and San Simeon, California, and they already felt at ease with each other.
The Yurok people hold the condor, which is referred to as prey-go-neesh in the native language, in a revered position. The Yurok reservation can be found in northwest California near the Klamath River; nevertheless, the vast majority of the Yurok tribe’s traditional lands are currently held by either government organisations or private landowners. Since 2003, when a group of tribal elders identified the bird as a keystone species for both culture and ecology and, as a result, the most important land-based creature that requires restoration, the tribe has been working to bring back the California condor. In 2003, the tribe began working to bring back the California condor.
The arrival of the condors occurred nineteen years after the Yurok had made that courageous decision. Tiana Williams-Claussen, the director of the Yurok Wildlife Department, and her colleagues let each newcomer into the corral as elders who had toiled toward reaching that important moment watched.
Williams-responsibilities Claussen’s include gaining an understanding of the intricacies of condor biology and conveying Yurok culture to the outside world. She is a tribal member who attended Harvard University after spending her childhood on the shore close to the mouth of the Klamath River. She had no intention of becoming a condor biologist when she left for college, but when she came back in 2007 with a degree in biochemical sciences, her community needed her to work on the restoration of condor populations. Since then, Williams-Claussen has devoted the past 14 years of his life to learning everything there is to know about condors. During this time, he has built partnerships with government agencies, learned how to handle the birds, and listened to what Yurok elders have to say about the magnificent creature.
The number of California condors dropped to less than 30 individuals in the 1980s, making them a species that is considered to be in a state of critical endangerment. Biologists came to the conclusion that the only way for the species to survive was to round up every living condor and breed the birds in captivity, where they would be safe from being killed by poisons or electrocuted by power lines.
However, reintroducing condors to the wild proved to be a challenging task, and the experience served as an eye-opening teaching moment for the researchers involved about the significance of parental care and the sluggish nature of childhood development in these long-lived, extremely sociable birds. Researchers discovered that the socialisation of young condors with older birds was essential to the development of their mature behaviours. They also discovered that in a species where the adults follow and protect their children for at least a year after the birds fledge, the young birds that are pioneering environments that are devoid of condors require a great deal of human babysitting.