Some big birds come back

  It didn't take long for wildlife biologists to swoop down after a court decision cleared the way for bringing California condors back to the Colorado Plateau. A federal judge ruled Oct. 16 that officials from San Juan County in Utah could not stop reintroduction efforts since they could not prove harm from the birds. Less than two weeks later, six young condors were en route from zoos in Southern California and Boise, Idaho, to a holding pen high on Arizona's Vermilion Cliffs.

The birds will adjust to their new surroundings in the pens until sometime in December, when their feathers are ready for flight, says Eric Howard of Grand Canyon Trust. In the meantime, they will gaze out at a spectacular landscape that includes a power pole designed to shock birds who land on it.

"These are the first parent-raised chicks ever reintroduced in the wild," explains Howard. They've had no human contact and biologists want to keep it that way, he says. Besides their power-pole lesson, the birds will go through human aversion training where biologists beat them with foam batons while screaming violently.

"They will only associate humans with being probed and prodded and having their tail feathers lifted unceremoniously," says Howard.

Once the birds start flying on wings that span 9 feet, they will be lured (with planted carrion) south toward the Grand Canyon, says Rob Marshall of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But even if they head north, toward Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands and the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the birds should find suitable habitat. Although 17 wild condors now live in California, these six birds will be the first to live on the Colorado Plateau since 1924.

- Elizabeth Manning

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