ARIZONA HIGHWAYS (3TV/CBS 5) -- "Yeah, they'll bite you. If you're not careful, and even sometimes when you are, you'll get a bite, and you know, that bill is made to tear open carcasses, so sometimes we get our carcass torn."
Biologist Chris Parrish is talking about these massive California condors, the birds that he and fellow scientist Eric Weiss are working hard to save from extinction.
You learn as a field biologist to endure the elements.
After a while, it becomes kind of funny. If you can't take it with a laugh, it'll
get the best of you.
Yeah, Chris and Eric get bit from time to time, it's just in the nature of these condors, which are vultures.
What is also in their nature is to eat things that have died. It's how they stay alive.
Culturally, we've depicted vultures in general, you know they sit around in the
bare trees waiting for things to die. But in that, being a scavenger, they have to be fairly inquisitive and they have to be fairly smart to make it.
So if you really wanna know what these Condors are like up close, Chris says picture your average Thanksgiving turkey, but with one big difference.
Their wingspan can go 6, 7, 8, 9 feet, sometimes even more. But keeping them alive is a struggle.
These x-rays of the birds show bits of lead and bullet fragments that many of the birds are eating without meaning to.
They are the dark spots on this x-ray, the white spots in this x-ray. The fragments come from bullets hunters use to bring down big game.
What the hunters leave behind, the condors eat. What paralyzes the bird is that lead from bullet fragments gets into their system. And the number one cause of death here is lead poisoning, and we can do something about it.
Arizona hunters are playing a huge role in using non-lead ammunition and helping us out. More and more hunters are now using these copper bullets instead of lead.
Chris says by the late 1980s, just 22 of the birds were still alive. The California condor was almost extinct.
Chris and Eric work for the peregrine fund, working hard to bring them back. Now, there are more than 70!
All those crazy yellow lines on the map are a good sign, the lines show where the birds go. Clear to Utah, California and New Mexico and quite often into the Grand Canyon.
Depending on the winds, they can fly 60 mph, and travel hundreds of miles in a day.
On our visit, two of the birds they trapped for tetanus are showing dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.
It's kind of a double-edged sword, I mean, if a bird is sick, yeah, you don't want him to have lead, you don't want him to be sick.
On the other hand, every bird that you catch with high lead is one more that you might be able to save.
The ones you don't catch, that are out there feeding on their own, coming across what they may, those are the ones that may die.
So I'm pleased we got these two, these two will be two that we can probably save.
To do that, they will have to gently cage them. Then bring them down off the 1200 foot Vermillion Cliffs.
For two others, a small victory. No need for treatment.
With his bare hands, Chris releases them back into the wild.
You're handling a bird that can live 50 to 70 years, this bird might be out there
reproducing long after I'm retired, and maybe my kids, my grandkids will be able to see that bird.
That's doing something in conservation that's for the future generations. I think it's most rewarding.