Become Part of the Effort to Save California Condors

Help tag California condors and other animals on Condor Watch. Screenshot of Condor Watch by Ariane Coffin.
Help tag California condors and other animals on Condor Watch. Screenshot of Condor Watch by Ariane Coffin.

Do you ever get those moments when you learn something interesting and think, “How have I not heard about this yet?!”

I was listening to Episode 203 entitled “Condor or Condon’t” of the podcast Science… Sort Of, where host Ryan interviews Zeka Kuspa, an environmental toxicologist specialized in California condors. Zeka explained that in the 1980s, the California condors were down to 22 birds. Total. Due to an attentive conservation effort and breeding program, the population is recovering, but they are still considered critically endangered. The good news is, there’s something you can do to help save the California condors!

You may wonder why the California condors need an environmental toxicologist in the first place. That’s because the number one cause of death for the California condor is lead poisoning. Lead bullets used by hunters tend to fragment into the body of the wounded animal, so any carcass left behind will poison the scavenger population through ingestion of the lead fragments. Other than a good breeding program, these birds also need to be monitored extremely closely once released into the wild because the threat of lead poisoning is ever-present. Every six months, the wild birds are trapped to be lead tested, and treated if necessary.

Additionally, it is vital that the birds be monitored in the wild between test rounds so they can be helped if they become hurt or ill. Motion-activated cameras have been installed around release sites in California to keep an eye on the progress and health of the birds. Problem is, any activity will trigger the motion sensors, so there is a lot of data to analyze. This is where you can help!

A new website, Condor Watch, launched last April to let volunteers tag the animals in photos taken by these motion-activated cameras. Crowdsourced data analysis at its best! The website does have a tutorial and field guide to teach you how to tag condors and various other animals in the photos properly, but don’t feel paralyzed with fear that you might tag animals incorrectly. Each photos appears to multiple volunteers so that usually the correct answer wins the majority.

The really fun part is that it’s a super kid-friendly activity to do at home or in the classroom! It’s a great way to teach science in a very meaningful way. What a great joy for children to feel they contributed to a real science project and helped save a species.

Ariane is a programmer married to another programmer. Together they have two little girls who don't stand a chance against their nerdy lineage. Ariane can also be found illustrating for Intelligently Adorable.