October 9, 2009

Will the California Condor come ‘home’ to the Pacific Northwest?

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rita_hibbardweb6Read the Oct. 5 High Country News for Peter Beland’s tale of a researcher pushing for the re-introduction of the California condor into the Pacific Northwest. The condor was last seen in central Oregon in 1904, but Oregon Zoo biologist David Moen has spoken with a Warm Springs Tribal Elder who says he spotted condors near Oregon’s Mount Hood as recent as the 1960s.

Moen also studied Native languages and basketry for clues and learned that condors probably lived near the Columbia River in the Dalles area and on the Oregon coast, among other places. Then, in the summer of 2006, he consulted Steve Emslie, a paleoecology and avian ecology specialist at the University of North Carolina, on the most likely nesting sites.

Condors prefer fairly inaccessible caves near water and plenty of food, Emslie explained. Gridding out potential nesting spots and sifting meticulously through the dirt, Emslie managed to find prehistoric shell fragments and condor bones in the Grand Canyon in the ’80s, decisively proving that the birds had nested in the area and helping justify their re-release in Arizona.

Now Moen is waiting for tests being conducted in Denmark that will show whether the birds lived in Oregon as recently as 50 to 100 years ago. If so, researchers know the bird is more likely to do so again.

— Rita Hibbard

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