(condor hits roof) – It just jumped on the roof. (condor hits roof) Whoa, that’s a big bird. You know, it seems like we’re kind of like in a horror movie, we’re in this little shack, and then there’s these big birds just jumping all around us. For the next several hours, we will be in this blind, attempting to trap some
condors, you ready? (upbeat music) (gentle music) Recently I had the priviledge of working alongside wildlife
biologist, Molly Astell, where I assisted in
gathering the biometrics of several critically
endangered California condors. Molly has invited the team back to the Bitter Creek
National Wildlife Refuge to help with another task. This time the goal is
to trap birds that need to have their health
evaluated for the season. So how do you safely trap a
bird that has a home range of over 100 miles, and is capable of soaring as high as 15,000 feet? The answer is quite simple,
ring the dinner bell by serving up one of their favorite dishes, a smelly cow carcass. We will be setting up in a blind. This structure will allow
us to stay completely hidden as the hungry condors are drawn
in toward the tempting bait. The name of the game is
patience and silence. We want to create as
little noise as possible, so that we don’t spook our dinner guests. So you got the wild condors
there, and then the ones that we’re going to be releasing right there. Molly, what are you doing right now? – I’m trying to get the
IDs of all the birds here. So then we know who’s in the area, and who we’ve seen lately. And we can kinda keep track
of what birds are around, and what birds we
haven’t seen for a while. – Okay, thanks a lot. The team’s goal is to
trap birds whose health has not yet been evaluated this season. Molly can quickly look at the
birds’ numbered wing tags, reference her notes, and then determine which birds she needs to trap. Look at this, look at this, this is fantastic, it’s condor overload. That one’s pruning, that’s number 20. Some adults are chasing each other. (condor hits roof) They just jumped on the roof. (condor hits roof) (laughing) That’s a big bird. You know, it seems like we’re kind of like in a horror movie, we’re in this little
shack, and then there’s these big birds just
jumping all around us. For the next several hours
we will be in this blind, attempting to trap some
condors, you ready? – All right, so I think we’re about ready to open up that door, and then we’ll see if our kids in there are gonna walk out into the wild for the first time. So I’m gonna slowly
open up this door here. – [Coyote] Okay. So here’s what’s going to happen. When Molly opens up that
door the hungry wild condors on the outside of the enclosure are going to be lured inside
because of the cow carcass. This also allows the two condors that were already inside, which were born and raised in captivity, to exit the enclosure. – [Molly] 945 just walked out of the trap. – [Coyote] He’s taking his first steps into the wild, that’s quite amazing. – [Molly] Did 870 leave? – The juvenile?
– Yeah. – [Coyote] Yeah, right there. – Right there, oh look at that. 870 is out and at the pond. So that the two birds
that we’re gonna release are out in the wild for the first time. – [Coyote] When you see
something like them, how do feel? – Oh man, it’s such a great moment, when you see ’em take their first flight and they’re kinda like whoa, whoa I can actually fly,
it’s amazing to watch. – [Coyote] Yeah, you’re kind
of like a proud mom, right? – [Molly] Yeah, little bit,
it’s great to see ’em out there. – So Molly, is there a hierarchy
when it comes to feeding? – Yeah, and you kinda see it
as we’re watching ’em here. You’ll notice like 216, she’s
one of the more dominant birds out here.
– Okay. – And she has no problem just shooing off any other bird that’s getting in her way. But some of the younger ones,
they’re a little skittish. Oh, got a little fight going on here. – [Coyote] A little fight,
what’s the next step? – The next step is basically
we wait untiL the birds that we want are in the trap, and the ones that we don’t want are outside. Sometimes that can just take a while. – So essentially, we wait
in this cozy cabin shack. – [Molly] Exactly. – Okay, so in the meantime,
might do some photography. This is one way glass,
so they can’t actually see us, but we can see them. So I could actually get the
lens right up to the glass, and potentially get some pictures. Oh, we got one coming
in, that’s a big boy. (camera shutters) That’s a big one. (camera shutters) Wow! Check that out, we got
that massive wingspan. And check out those primary
feathers right there. So that’s really distinct on condors. Look at that, and those feet, those feet kinda just dangle down. Got some snacks for everyone. Here you go buddy. – [Cameraman] Thanks man.
– For you. You know, watching those
condor devour that carcass got me hungry.
– Yeah. – So there you go. – Thank you very much. – Wow, they’re just
digging into that carcass. There’s actually not that much blood. They’re getting all the tendons and stuff. Ripping in there, wow,
look at all the guts. – [Molly] I think what we’re
gonna do is we’re gonna drop the trap door and see if we can finesse some of these
birds that we definitely wanna trap up into the main flight pen. – [Coyote] What would prompt
them to fly into that? – [Molly] Well they can see that there’s another carcass in the flight pen. – Okay.
– And there’s no competition for that one,
it’s looking pretty good. – Got ya.
– See if this guy will go up.
– I think so. – I think we got him.
– Yup. – There he goes!
– Boom. All right, that one is officially
inside of the flight pen. – [Molly] We’ve trapped our first bird. – Now of course, when we mean trapped, we mean it’s going into the flight pen. The flight pen is a larger enclosure where the birds are kept temporarily until the biologists
actually process them, and then release them again. The condors have consumed all the soft tissue of the carcass very fast. Very efficient birds, their whole design, their whole head structure
is designed to actually fit into the crevice of
a carcass, and be able to get in there and pick away
all the choice morsels. We’ve been in this blind for hours. And we’re almost done, we just have one final bird that needs to get into that main flight pen, and it’s number 839. But it’s kinda tricky because we also have three other birds in here that we do not want to get into that flight pen. It’s a matter of Molly
being quick with that gate. The perch is clear, 839 is on. All right Molly, but be
ready ’cause these two on the ground are restless.
– Yeah. – [Coyote] This is your chance, dude. Yup, okay, 839 is in! – Yes!
– Boom, great job, Molly!
– We got it. – Got him.
– Heck yeah! – All right, so we got
all the target birds that we wanted to get
into that flight pen. And the rest of these, actually
we will be able to release back into the wild, so that’s fantastic. – [Molly] Yeah, mission accomplished. – Mission accomplished. Okay, we’ve been in this
dark blind for several hours. (bright music) Oh! It is bright out there. We are done, it was a successful day. Okay Molly, we were in that
blind for about four hours. How did we do? – Yeah, we did great, so
we got those eight birds that we were trying to
trap, which is fantastic. And then we saw our two
birds that we were releasing into the wild for the first time make their way out into the world, with the rest of the
free flying population. – Nice.
– So, great day. – Very successful day. Well thank you for having me on the team. – Thank you. – We had a wonderful time helping out with the California
Condor Recovery Program. What these biologists
are doing is critical. All the hard work that you saw us doing, they’re doing this on a regular basis, to save this endangered species. All right, all that hard work deserves some lunch, you ready? – Yeah, let’s go.
– All right. The survival of the California condor depends on continued monitoring and conservation efforts conducted by dedicated people
like Molly and her team. However, the protection of a species is a collective endeavor
shared by all of us. One simple way to
directly help this species is by encouraging hunters to
use non-lead-based ammunition. This reduces the risk of
condors consuming lead fragments left behind in the spoils of a hunt, which causes lead poisoning and high mortality rates in these birds. The actions don’t have to be big. But over time small actions
can have the potential to create big results that can safeguard our planet’s amazing biodiversity. Can’t get enough of
these fascinating birds? Then check out the live
cameras at explore.org to catch a glimpse of them in real time. Just click on the link in
the video description below. If you missed my first encounter with this critically endangered species, make sure to go back and watch
the time I assisted Molly in gathering important biometrics
from these enormous birds. And don’t forget to subscribe and click the notification
bell, ding, ding ding, so you can join me, Mario,
on the next adventure. (gentle music)