Monday, October 29, 2007

Birds in the California Fires

One-third of San Diego's Wild Animal Park burned during last week's wildfires. The park houses a captive breeding facility for endangered California condors. The facility was damaged in the blaze, but the condors are safe.

Park staff worked feverishly Sunday night and Monday morning to move 118 birds to safety, even as some employees were getting phone calls that their homes were in danger and they were being evacuated....

At the sprawling park, “we moved 33 species of birds, of which 13 were endangered,” said Michael Mace, the curator of birds.

Park workers chased, captured, crated and carried the birds to the Paul Harter Veterinary Clinic on the south side of the park, away from the flames.

The only significant park damage was to an outlying condor breeding facility and to storage units and lights for the park's annual holiday season display.

Among the endangered species threatened by the fire were five California and two Andean condors housed in the breeding facility.

They were also the hardest to capture, Mace said. The birds have 10-foot wingspans and a bad attitude.

Mace said the birds were anxious because of the fire and disliked being chased around their enclosure by pesky humans.

“The condors go all the way to the top (of the enclosure) to get away from the staff, so you have to go up in the wire to try to capture them to take them to safety, and they don't know why you're doing that,” Mace said.

He said park workers also hustled 10 Micronesian kingfishers – one-tenth of the world's population of the rare bird – to safety.
Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity reports that the fires have reduced habitat for several endangered species, such as the California gnatcatcher, California spotted owl, and Coastal cactus wren.