Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Happy Condorversary! Today Marks the Return of Prey-Go-Neesh to Local Skies

Posted By on Wed, May 3, 2023 at 1:57 PM

click to enlarge Members of the first cohort sit on top of the enclosure with the new cohort  and mentor bird No. 746 inside. - COURTESY OF THE YUROK TRIBE
  • Courtesy of the Yurok Tribe
  • Members of the first cohort sit on top of the enclosure with the new cohort and mentor bird No. 746 inside.
What a difference a year makes.

On this date one year ago,  A3 and A2 took their first flights into the wild, marking the historic return of California condors to North Coast skies after a more than 130 year absence.

Now eight of the birds known to the Yurok Tribe as prey-go-neesh are flying free, with A5 "Neee'n" and A6 “Me-new-kwek'" recently spotted soaring high above Redwood Creek. The North California Condor Restoration Program reported in a post this week that all the birds are doing well.

(Read more about the Yurok Tribe-led program in the June of 2022 cover story, "Coming Home," here.)

Mentor bird No. 746, the first of the birds held sacred by the Yurok Tribe to arrive on Humboldt County soil in more than a century and the first to provide a local feather for the regalia worn by dancers during the World Renewal ceremony  since that time, remains at the Oakland Zoo.

Known as "Paaytoqin," the bird that helped teach those now riding the thermals high in the air how to be a condor was moved in December due to concerns about avian flu. An outbreak has killed 20 California condors in the Southwest flock  along the Utah and Arizona border as of April 28, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

No cases have been detected  in condors living in California or other populations of the largest bird in North America, which still teeters on the brink of extinction after decades of recovery work. The Northern California Condor Restoration Program is the latest release site to join the fold.
click to enlarge The mentor condor at the release enclosure's pool. - YUROK TRIBE FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Yurok Tribe Facebook page
  • The mentor condor at the release enclosure's pool.

So let's take a walk down memory lane and remember the day that prey-go-neesh returned to Yurok County skies and watch the moment caught on video.

Read the May 3, 2022, story below:


Just around 10:30 a.m. today, two young California condors made their first venture into the wild and the Northern California Condor Restoration Program took flight, bringing the bird known to the Yurok Tribe as prey-go-neesh back to the skies over their ancestral lands after more than a century of absence.

The moment culminates 15 years of planning, outreach and research by the Yurok Tribe, which is spearheading the program in partnership with the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and marks the critically endangered species' first release into the northern reaches of its former territory.

Yurok Wildlife Department Director Tiana Williams-Claussen teared up during a live stream of the event as she watched the two captive-raised birds spread their massive wings in the wide open for the very first time.

 "I'm so deeply happy," she said, thanking the indivuals and agencies that have been a part of the effort and especially thanking the tribe's elders for realizing the cultural and ecological importance of bringing the sacred bird back to Yurok lands. "I'm so grateful for the day to have finally come."
click to enlarge The first two condors were released one year ago today, A3 and A2. - COURTESY OF THE YUROK TRIBE
  • Courtesy of the Yurok Tribe
  • The first two condors were released one year ago today, A3 and A2.


A3, an almost 2-year-old male that made his way out first, has been nicknamed "Poy’-we-son," which the Yurok Tribe said translates to "the one who goes ahead, but also harks back to the traditional name for a headman of a village, who helps lead and guide the village in a good way."

He has shown dominate traits during his stay with the three other juvenile condors as the group spent the last several weeks socializing and picking up lifeskills from mentor bird No. 746, which is currently on loan to the Northern California restoration program.

Williams-Claussen says she expects Poy'-we-son to be a leader of the flock that will be expanded with new birds every year for the next 20 years or so, with the goal of building up a self-sustaining population that eventually makes its way into the Pacific Northwest.

Second to take flight was A2, nicknamed "Nes-kwe-chokw,’" which translates to “He returns” or “He arrives," which Williams-Claussen says "is representative of the historic moment we just underwent, and condors’ return, free-flying, to the Yurok and surrounding landscape."

She describes A2 as a "confident bird" that is "often seen jockeying with A3 in play" but also to establish his place in the flock's hierarchy, and "with the will to do well in the wild."

The other two — A1 and A0, the sole female — are slated to be released at a later date, in part because A1 has a broken satellite transmitter that can't be repaired until June or so.

While Poy’-we-son and Nes-kwe-chokw are free to soar on the thermals that they can ride for 100 miles without flapping a wing, the program's staff will continue to monitor the birds' movements via radio and satellite transmitters.
click to enlarge A2 and A3 interact after A3 returns to the enclosure site after a two-week absence. - YUROK TRIBE FACEBOOK
  • Yurok Tribe Facebook
  • A2 and A3 interact after A3 returns to the enclosure site after a two-week absence.


The three remaining condors in the heavily fortressed enclosure in Redwoods National and State Parks are expected to draw Poy’-we-son and Nes-kwe-chokw back to the hillside, where staff will continue to put out carrion for feedings in an open but fenced area adjacent to the wire-encased atrium, allowing the socializing to continue through the mesh as the highly interactive birds adapt to their new surroundings.
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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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