California Condor Chick Observed Playing With Microtrash At Huttons Bowl Nest

May 26, 2021
The California Condor Chick plays with a bottle cap.

Our partners at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service spotted a bottle cap in the Huttons Bowl nest last week. Read below to learn what risks this litter can pose to condor chicks, and watch LIVE at AllAboutBirds.org/Condors.

Tiny foreign objects like bullet casings and bottle caps are classified as “microtrash.” Since California Condors were reintroduced in Southern California, microtrash has been a major contributor to nest failures.

Condor parents may cue in on these small items because they exhibit many similar physical properties to calcium supplements like bones or shells, and they may bring them back to their nests to feed them to their young chicks.

Unfortunately, these trash items are not able to be digested by chicks and can cause impactions in the digestive tract. While this is a known problem, and one of the reasons for condor nest management, condor biologists have been fortunate enough to learn about certain levels of resiliency, in large part thanks to the cams.

While all condor enthusiasts would love a trash-free world, the reality is that the landscape is littered with microtrash that condor parents unwittingly collect. Chicks can tolerate a certain amount of trash up to the point where they are developmentally able to regurgitate it. Knowing this allows biologists to weigh the risks, both to the birds and humans, associated with entering a nest to remove the trash versus diligently monitoring the chick’s behavior for signs that microtrash may be causing a serious problem—something that the live-streaming cameras have been an incredible tool for!

If it looks like the microtrash could be an issue for the chick, biologists can make the decision to evacuate it for veterinary care. Since this is a serious undertaking for the chick and can impact the fate of the nest, this decision is not made lightly and is only taken as an emergency measure.

At this stage, we hope that the bottle cap will continue to just be a foreign novelty object to the chick and not something that will pose any issues to the chick.

You too can help with condor conservation by practicing Leave No Trace and by taking a moment to clean up any trash you may see while spending time outdoors.

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