Santa Cruz County

New website seeks citizen help in California condor research

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - A new project out of UC Santa Cruz seeks the public's help in their studies of the endangered California condor.

Condor Watch is a new website launched by biologists that enlists the help of "citizen scientists" in research aimed specifically at reducing lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning is the primary threat to condors in the wild. The birds are often poisoned by led from bullet fragments in the scavenged carcasses they consume.

The new website, launched Tuesday, is part of Zooniverse, a collection of of web-based citizen science projects that use the efforts of volunteers to help researchers deal with the flood of data they encounter.

On Condor Watch, volunteers are asked to look at photos of condors taken by  motion-activated cameras at sites where condors are fed as part of regular management activities. By identifying the tag number of each condor and describing its behavior, citizen scientists will help researchers understand condor social networks and other factors that may be related to lead poisoning.

The project is aimed at making it easier for condor biologists to identify the birds at high risk for lead poisoning and develop better strategies for ensuring the species' success in the wild.

"We have over 100,000 archived photos of condors in the wild, but we don't have the resources to go through them and mine all of the information they could provide," says Myra Finkelstein, a professor of environmental toxicology at UCSC. "Condor Watch allows us to engage a team of citizen scientists to tap into this wealth of information."

In the 1980s, California condor populations had collapsed to just 22 birds before being captured, bred in captivity and released again in an effort to reform wild populations. They are one of the world's most endangered bird species.

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