Listening Topic: Life Science – Informational talk at a ranger station

A. Listen to the radio report. Then choose the correct answer to the question.

___ a   Use of global positioning system (GPS)

___  Working together and socializing

___ c   Background and history

___  Raising baby condors

B. Read the questions and answer the ones you can. Then listen to the lecture again and complete your answers. Listen again if necessary.

1   When did the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service start their breeding program?

2   What are the three regions mentioned where wild condors live now?

3   What are two points mentioned that make it difficult to attach the GPS units to condors?

4   What is one thing biologists have learned as a result of using GPS?

5   What didn’t the baby condors learn in the early days of the program?

6   What are the humans raising baby condors trained to do now?

7   How do condors learn how to find food?

8   What example does the speaker give to show that condors like to socialize?



a 2   b 4   c 1   d 3


Answers will vary.


 California, Arizona, and Baja, Mexico

 The birds have very large wings that could knock you out and very sharp beaks.

 That condors fly more distance than they realized; that the species is more intelligent and complex than they’d realized

 They didn’t learn to be afraid of humans.

 They’re trained to act like parent condors.

 The learn from older, more experienced birds.

 One group of birds travel 160 miles just to visit and socialize with other birds.


Hello everyone. Welcome to the condor station. I’d like to give you a little bit of history and background for our condor recovery program, and then I’ll answer any questions you might have.

I’ll start with some history. In 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured the last condor in the wild and put it into a breeding program. Imagine, that was the last wild condor, and no one knew if the species could recover. Fortunately, the surviving condors mated and produced offspring. Now after more than 17 years, there are 149 condors living in captivity and 99 flying free in California, Arizona, and Baja, Mexico. More birds are being released into the wild whenever possible, and we know that at least five pairs of birds are mating in the wild. So that’s good news.

Now you can guess that we’d want to keep track of the birds in the wild. So how do we do that? We’ve used different tracking systems, but now GPS – global positioning systems – attached to the birds give us our best information. Just so you can appreciate our work, think of trying to attach one of the units to a bird with a nine-foot wingspan. Those wings could come close to knocking you out, and the beak is as sharp as the sharpest knife in your kitchen. This part of the job can be challenging.

Anyway, GPS gives us a lot of data: geographic coordinates within 14 feet for up to 16 hours a day. This is very specific and useful information. One thing we’ve learned is that condors fly a lot more distance in any day than we ever knew.

We’ve also discovered something that is very interesting and potentially even more helpful. We’ve found that the species is intelligent and much more complicated than we thought. Until now, we hadn’t really known how much condors actually have to learn to survive in the wild, but we now know that they do indeed have to learn to survive.

An example of this comes from one of the mistakes we made in the early days of raising baby condors. We had humans taking care of the babies. The people wore puppets on their hands that looked like adult condors, but they didn’t act like parent condors. They just used the puppets to give the babies food. Then, those babies were put together with other babies and had no contact with adult condors.

Now what we realized later was that, because of this approach, the baby condors didn’t learn to be afraid of people. After they were released, they would approach people without any fear at all, begging for food at campgrounds and things like that. They acted like pets instead of wild animals. Obviously, this wasn’t good. After watching adult condors with babies, we realized that the parent condors taught the babies a lot about being cautious and defending themselves. The parent condors spent a lot of time harassing their babies – pecking at them and pushing them away when they’re too curious – and this teaches them to be careful and to protect themselves.

So now we consider this in raising baby condors. All the babies in the program are raised either by an adult condor or by a human wearing a puppet that looks like a condor. The humans are trained to act like a parent condor – as I said, pecking and harassing the babies. We’ve found that baby condors raised in this way – actually taught to be cautious – are much more likely to avoid humans.

Another area we’ve learned a lot about because of the GPS monitoring is the way groups of condors relate and work together. Condors are scavengers, so they need to look for dead animals to eat. Now you’ve probably never thought of it, but that’s not the same as an animal that hunts for food. Think about it. A scavenger is dependent on finding a dead animal to eat at the right time, or it goes hungry. So what we found is that condors actually share information about good locations for food. There’s actually a kind of apprenticeship where condors work together. A more experienced bird helps a less experienced bird learn where to find food. It’s not really something you’d imagine birds doing, is it?

Another surprising point is how social these birds are. Through the information from GPS units, we’ve found that birds actually do like to socialize. One group of birds will travel about 160 miles down the coast to visit another group and hang out. That’s something many of us can relate to, although we might not travel 160 miles all that often, even to visit a good friend.

So that’s some background on the condors. Why is this work important? Well, first of course we’d like to have wild condors living without interference from us. But in a broader sense, we can always learn. As I’ve mentioned, we’ve found that condors are very intelligent, and their lives are more complex than we’d realized. So we never know what else we might learn, or how this information might apply to other animals’ problems, or even people’s problems, for that matter.

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