Documentary features conservation efforts of Evan Buechley '06

by University Communications,

The California Condor is one of the largest birds in the world, weighing up to 25 pounds and having a 9-foot-6-inch wing span.

During the 1980s, this majestic bird faced the brink of extinction, with only 22 known to remain in the world.

Thanks to the restoration and reintroduction efforts of conservation biologists like Evan Buechley ’06, the condor is recovering — with a population of 410 in 2012, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Buechley’s work to save the California Condor is featured in the documentary, “Scavenger Hunt: An Unlikely Union,” released in 2012.

An accomplished flamenco guitar player, Buechley also composed the film’s soundtrack and contributed footage.

While working for the nonprofit group, The Peregrine Fund, in northern Arizona, Buechley and a team of 10 biologists closely monitored and tracked the condors after releasing them into the wild.

The film documents the team’s restoration efforts and discusses the threat lead ammunition poses to the condor’s survival.

“Studying the impacts of lead ammunition is important for wildlife conservation, specifically the condor recovery effort, but also has implications for human health,” Buechley says. “This is a broader issue, with this form of toxicity impacting other natural systems, and potentially contaminating our food.”

Learning From Nature

Buechley discovered his passion for fieldwork while at Willamette, under the mentoring of biology professor David Craig.

He is now pursuing a doctorate in biology at the University of Utah, where he works with the renowned conservation scientist Cagan Sekercioglu.

Buechley’s research on bird communities has taken him around the world, from the deserts of the American Southwest to the secluded islands of Micronesia — where he faced rain, heat and dense jungles to collect data.

Though fieldwork can be trying at times, Buechley values the opportunity to explore new places and learn from nature.

“By seeing how complex nature is and partaking in that complexity, that has the potential to really open our minds to be inquisitive about the universe and think about things in critical ways,” he says.

“Looking at bird communities allows you to make some conclusions about how ecosystems as a whole are changing, which is important not just for conservation, but also for solving our greatest global challenges.”