Condor Watch Talk

Aversion therapy

  • inaspin by inaspin

    I was listening to NPR in the car this morning and there was an interview with the director of the San Diego Safari Park, talking about training young condors to avoid the danger of perching or roosting on high voltage power lines. It seems their size puts them at great risk. The idea is to train them that power lines are a nasty by delivering a small electric shock when the captive raised youngsters hop on the specially configured lines in their cages. The hope is that when they are released, they retain the knowledge gained into their adult lives and avoid electrocution. 3 youngsters are about to venture out... good that someone is thinking.


  • wreness by wreness moderator

    Wow! All the way down in Oz you hear about the condors? How neat 😃

    Power line collisions are one of the 3 biggest threats to condors after lead poisoning and the ingestion of "micro trash" - small bits of plastic, glass and other human-made garbage that impacts the bird's intestinal tract and kills them.

    Part of the problem the condors have with power lines is that, due to their size, they need a good running start to take off flying and so prefer sloped hills (like you see in a lot of our photos here) so that they can get downhill momentum, then soar up into the sky. Their size also makes it tricky to make sudden adjustments (they're not delicate sparrows, after all) to avoid a wire and face it - the sky is full of power lines which are hard to see. Wind turbines are also fast becoming an issue in some areas.

    Part of the solution has been to bury the wire underground or to encase overhead lines in insulated tree wire which improves visibility to condors so they can avoid them.

    The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service started what they called "aversion training" in hopes of preventing condors deaths by electrocutions from collisions and perching on power lines. What they did was put a replica of an actual power pole in the birds’ flight pens. A flight pen is a large outdoor cage where captive-bred juvenile condors (raised in zoos and captive breeding facilities) are housed and fed for a time with their adult mentors. They get to see there's a Big Wide World out there. They fly around, eat carcasses in the yard and interact with other condors.).

    Some of the facilities have these pole placed outside of the pens for wild hatched birds to "use", if you will, since they will often be drawn to the area due to the carcasses placed in the yard and the

    The power pole in the flight pen is set up to deliver a mild but uncomfortable electric shock if the condor lands on it. It doesn't hurt them; but they get the idea that power poles = not at all fun. Tree branches are also placed around, too, so the condor has places to land that are "safe" and in this way they learn there are places to land that don't do that uncomfortable thing. Condors are smart and they learn this concept quickly.

    No captive-bred condor has been electrocuted while perched on a power pole since the training’s inception. In looking up information for this I read that "Only one condor in Southern California has died in a mid-air collision with a power lined that incident happened back in 2001, according to the Wildlife Service, which tracks the birds by transmitters and ID numbers attached to their wings." but according the the database on Condor Watch, I didn't see any condor that died in 2001 from a power line collision. I did find 2 condors that died from power line accidents - Black 1 (301 in 2007) and Black 06 (306) (2013). Black06 had toxic blood lead levels which is often behind a condor death - the bird is simply too ill from lead poisoning to fly, eat or get away from a predator. So I'm not sure what data is correct there (maybe one of the scientists can clarify that)

    This is a crew from the Southern California Edison (SCE) Company putting up a pole at the Bitter Creek flight pen (home of the Jello Horse)

    enter image description here


  • inaspin by inaspin

    Thank you once again for excellent feedback. The guy on the radio did describe all this, but the picture does it so much better.
    Maybe the jello horse took part in the aversion therapy, but as a subject to be perched on (or not) something has to be going on.


  • vjbakker by vjbakker scientist

    Yes, great response wreness!! As wreness mentioned, condors require certain conditions to take flight, and they won't land in areas where they can't take off. For example, they will not feed on beachcast carcasses on certain beaches on the Big Sur coast because the setting does not support taking flight after the meal. Imagine letting a perfectly good putrid gooey sea lion go to waste?! All of the feeding stations are in locations suitable for condor flight -- especially hilltops.

    And as wreness said, collisions with human-made objects in their path are a not insignificant cause of death, for the reasons wreness mentioned, and because condors tend to look down instead of ahead when foraging.There was a power line in Big Sur that killed 3 condors and the electric company eventually moved 3 miles of line underground to prevent future deaths. They made a promotional video about project:


  • wreness by wreness moderator in response to vjbakker's comment.

    Thanks for the input, VJ!

    And yes, I can't imagine the personal anguish of having to pass up a purifying sea lion carcass! 😄