Condor Watch Talk

How Tags Are Made

  • wreness by wreness moderator

    It not only takes brains and dedication to manage condors, it takes artistic talent as well!

    Did you know that #humans make, sew and paint wing tags for all of the southern California condor nestlings by hand? Condor chicks born in the wild receive a wing identification tag and sewn-in modified VHF (very high frequency) radio transmitter (those are the wires you also see in the front, dividing the middle of the tags) at approximately 4 months of age which allows biologists and volunteers to more easily track their movements after fledging. Condor chicks usually fledge the nest (take their first flight) around 6-8 months of age.

    In the image, you can see stitching in the middle of the tag (between the numbers) and the transmitter's thin antenna sticking out from the far end of the tag. The material used for stitching, in case you are curious, is dental floss! Our condor crew has 101 uses for dental floss.

    The numbers painted onto the tag, “34” in this case, represent the last two digits of the condor’s studbook number. Every California condor is assigned a studbook number, similar to an identification and registration number, that is recorded in an International Studbook to keep track of its hatch date, date of death, sex, parents, current location, transfers, etc. (Some of this info is what you see in the bird's BIO here) This tag was prepared for California condor #734

    The tag, called a "patagial tag" is attached to the wing much like piercing an ear; though a fold of skin between the body (behind the shoulder) and the "elbow". It's not uncommon for the tags to fade, damaged, curled or torn off completely. In this case the bird is recaptured and re-tagged.

    ~~ **(with thanks to the awesome Facebook pages of the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge . . . . Please take a look!

    enter image description here


  • Canmore1919 by Canmore1919

    It seems like there are many birds with no apparent tags on the outstretched wings - see attached pic. Is there a tagging convention ie. a standard placement of tags either L or R wing or perhaps top or bottom of wing Any idea as to how many birds remain untagged?

    Image ACW00055ny


  • wreness by wreness moderator


    Interesting question 😃

    This tag is really hard to see on this photo because of the angle but it's there (large pic)

    If you look really closely it just seems like a different section of feathers along the top of the wing where the clip is. Can't see the tag itself; it may be hidden with feathers at this angle.

    The tags are always in the same place on the wings; about middle-ish. Some birds have them on both wings; some are tagged on only 1 wing (I have no idea why this is decided. One of our Brainy Scientists can chime in on this) They are always the same number on both wings - the number and color is visible on the underside, too. Not all tags have a GPS unit and so wouldn't have the wire hanging from them but this is a great way to spot a tag when you can't see the tag itself - sometimes you see that wire hanging off to the side. itself.

    Technically, ideally, all the condors being photographed have tags. Facing right at you, clear and readable. Some might lose them due to them being rubbed away, ripped off, worn off, bitten off, folded, faded or just wear and tear. It's a rough world. Sometimes the pierced hole enlarges and the tag will fall out. These birds are recaptured ASAP and re-tagged.

    Baby Condor Tag? No Tag? You're right - it looks like they don't have one.

    I don't know if you saw the article from the Ventana Wildlife Society on the board here when an untagged and unknown baby condor showed up one day at their feeding site. There was a collective "What?!" because the condors are so carefully monitored, observed and cared for, even as eggs. This baby shows up out of nowhere but seems to know exactly where the free food is and that they'd be famous. Do they have us trained or what?

    Hope this helps! Thanks for asking (and all you do here!)


  • vjbakker by vjbakker scientist

    I finally had a chance to track down an answer to this question. As I do with many tag-related questions, I checked in with Devon Pryor, Conservation and Research Associate at the Santa Barbara Zoo. Devon worked for the southern California Condor program for many years, still works with condors at the Zoo, and is just unfailingly helpful and responsive. Her answer follows:

    Yes, I can definitely give you some insight as to why some condors have two tags and others only one. In the early days of the reintroduction program and up until a few years ago, condors were commonly tagged on both wings so that they could be easily identified from either side. A few years back (2009 or 2010), after many of the older birds suffered from piercing “blowouts”, the southern California crew decided to attach just one tag in order to let the other wing/piercing rest. Practically all of the older birds (400 series studbook numbers and down) have two piercing but many of the younger birds (500 and up) are now just given one tag and pierced on one side.

    We decided to rest wings because it allowed us to alternate tagging sides when a hole (or piercing) got too stretched out. Many of the oldest birds have had patagial surgery for tag blowouts or holes that are too big because of incorrect piercing/tag placement (and combined weight of heavier tracking equipment in the past). Basically, by only piercing and tagging one wing at a time, we are extending the carrying capacity of each wing and trying to maximize the amount of time that each condor can be identifiable by wing tags.


  • wreness by wreness moderator

    Thanks for the info, VJ! That makes perfect sense, "resting" the wings. Amazing to know all that science and technical Know How is behind what is just seen as "a tag" to most.