Let’s get this out of the way early—the California condor is not the prettiest of birds. With a wingspan of as much as 10 ft (3 m) and a weight of around 25 lbs (12 kg), it’s scary big. However, it performs an important function in our environment as a scavenger bird, eating carrion, or dead animals.
Those dining habits, however, are making it difficult to conserve the species. Condors end up eating a lot of lead in the form of bullet fragments in the carcasses of animals hunted with lead ammunition. This means that condors frequently suffer from lead poisoning. Lead is toxic to most organs and tissues in the body; symptoms of lead poisoning in humans can include pain, confusion, headache, and irritability, as well as seizures, coma, and death. Condors also suffer from DDT poisoning, problems with habitat destruction, and poaching.
Condor Watch is a new project designed to help protect this important bird. As part of a plan to both help and study the condor, uncontaminated animal carcasses are put out for the birds to feed on at feeding stations across the state of California. While the condors are eating, remotely triggered cameras snap photos to try to capture the tag number of each condor and observe their behavior around the carcass. Researchers would like you to sift through hundreds of thousands of photographs to help them better understand the social interactions and individual personalities of condors. Yes, you read that right—you too can be a condor psychologist.
Participating is easy: once you’ve registered at the project site, you simply identify all the animals in a photo, and then, whenever possible, provide the tag ID. A tutorial on the site will walk you the procedure for tagging the images.
An added bonus to this project is that you’ll get to enjoy, virtually at least, a lot of California sunshine in the process!