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A Chick for Our Eurasian Black Vultures


New Hope for Desert Perennials:

In June Te Living Desert’s pair of Eurasian black vultures (formerly known as “cinereous vultures”) produced their third hatchling.

Eurasian black vultures (Aegypins monachus) are birds

of prey with immense size: their wingspan equals that of the California condor. In the wild they spend most of their day soaring high in the sky, taking wing with the warming air of the morning and returning to roost in the evening. Mating pairs of Eurasian black vultures form a life-long bond. In the wild and in captivity, nesting begins early in the year, with the pair spending much time together at the nest or eyrie. Te Living Desert’s vultures like their wild counterparts, engaged in a ritualized courtship that included much mutual preening of each other. In the wild the vulture nests are enormous structures, built on the tops of large trees or on a rock ledge. A new nest is four to five feet across by two feet thick, but with time it becomes huge, up to eight feet across and seven or more feet thick. Both sexes take part in constructing the nest, which is built of branches, twigs, grass, bark and skin. It is lined with wool, rags, and other odds and ends that the pair finds. Te nest is re-used each year with the addition of new material. Only one egg is laid. Both sexes incubate the egg for a period of 52-55 days. If the egg is lost early in incubation, a replacement egg is laid. Tis year the animal keepers provided the birds with a nesting platform that gave them a 4’ by 4’ area to build a nest. In past years, the vultures had built their nest on the ground, which proved problematic. During incubation, the parents rolled the egg and each time the egg moved the male vulture would then rebuild the nest around it. Te egg and nest ended up moving a distance of six feet during the incubation period. With all three vulture hatchings, it was the second egg laid that hatched. It is unclear why the first eggs were lost.


ASTER PROPAGATION PROJECT MACK NASH, GARDENS SUPERVISOR Te Mecca aster (Xylorhiza cognata) is a rare plant species

Our vultures are excellent parents—one parent always remains

at the nest to guard and protect the chick as well as shading it from the sun. This year, our adults are being fed a diet of whole rats, which they regurgitate for the chick to take from their beak. Water is also regurgitated in this way. The length of the fledging

period is estimated at 100-120 days and the whole nesting cycle takes about eight months. When old enough, our new vulture chick will be paired with its own mate by the Species Survival Plan.

that only grows in the Mecca Hills and in the south part of the Indio Hills. It is a small perennial shrub, with very woody stems that often become gnarled and twisted with age. Like most desert native plants, Mecca asters are relatively dormant during the summer, but in the cooler months, especially when there’s been sufficient rainfall, they become quite showy. It has large daisy- like flowers that range in color from purple to white, with yellow centers or disks. Plants with pinkish-colored flowers also can be found. Te Mecca aster is considered rare because of its limited distribution. Portions of its habitat are threatened by off-road vehicle use. Te Living Desert Gardens Department has wanted for some time to grow Mecca aster. After the prodigious rains of the winter and spring of 2005, the Gardens staff knew it would be a great year to collect seed. We would need permission from the BLM to collect from their land, and despite several phone calls, it seemed doubtful we would obtain permission. Ten our staff learned a BLM/ECO Restoration Ecologist was working on habitat restoration in the Mecca Hills, and was interested in the Mecca aster. Tis was a case of serendipitous timing – the BLM wanted Mecca aster plants grown for re-vegetation purposes, and Te Living Desert wanted to grow them. An MOU—Memo of Understanding— was drawn up between the BLM and Te Living Desert, under

Te U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls much of the land where the Mecca aster grows, and has plans to re-vegetate certain

areas that have been degraded.

which we would experiment with propagation techniques for the Mecca aster and provide documentation to the BLM. Tis information would be of great value in conservation efforts of the Mecca aster. Under the agreement, half of the plants grown by Te Living Desert would be used by the BLM; Te Living Desert would retain the other half. Since we do not need half the plants, more than half will be available for BLM use. (Tis agreement also allows Te Living Desert to work with the Orocopia Sage (Salvia greatae), another rare native species which only occurs in the Orocopia Mountains, the Mecca Hills, and the Chocolate Mountains.) In June of 2005 we collected seed with the BLM and in late July we sowed our first batch of 100 seeds, thereby launching the propagation experiment. From July to the present we have continued to sow 100 seeds each month, allowing us to collect important germination data. In late September of 2005, wanting to take advantage of what we believed would be (and proved to be) a good time for germination, we sowed 1,000 seeds. In 2005 a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Native Plant Conservation

Initiative Grant was received by the BLM to work on protecting the Mecca aster. Te money from the grant was received in March 2006. Te out-planting of the Mecca aster is expected to happen this fall. Te re-vegetation planting will be managed by the BLM, using volunteer help. Te Living Desert has offered to assist with the planting and we would certainly like to be involved beyond just growing the plants, but at this time we are waiting to hear from the BLM on how they can utilize our help. 9

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