Endangered California Condor Chicks Hatch in the Wild
19 July 2007Biologists recently confirmed a new condor chick produced in the wild at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument by California Condors that were captive-bred by The Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho. They believe there is another chick in the Grand Canyon.
This brings the total number of chicks hatched in the wilds of Arizona to six confirmed, and seven probable, since 1996, the year that endangered California Condors were first reintroduced in northern Arizona as part of a cooperative recovery program by federal, state and private partners.
"This confirmed visual allows for a brief sigh of relief," said Chris Parish, the biologist leading the recovery effort for The Peregrine Fund, an international conservation organization. "The next big step, however, will be after the chick fledges and integrates into the wild flock. One step at a time."
The Peregrine Fund, based in Boise, Idaho, breeds and recovers endangered birds of prey around the world.
Two other condor pairs attempted to nest in Arizona this year but were unsuccessful. California Condors are typically six years or older the first time they attempt to breed, and pairs commonly do not succeed until they are eight years of age.
The Vermilion Cliffs chick is the second offspring for a pair of condors at the national monument. The chick was discovered by field biologists who observed nesting behavior in May. By early June biologists suspected a chick had hatched because the parents were venturing out to forage for food and immediately returning to the cave. After watching this behavior continue for three weeks, Peregrine Fund field manager Eddie Feltes rappelled down the face of the cliff and peeked inside the cave to confirm the presence of a healthy young bird.
The other chick that likely hatched this summer is the first for a pair nesting in a remote canyon within the Grand Canyon. That chick has not been confirmed with visual inspection but scientists are optimistic, based on the parents' behavior.
"With each wild chick hatched, the original condor reintroduction concerns of whether the condor could even be successfully recovered have been answered," said Kathy Sullivan, lead biologist of the Arizona Game and Fish Department's condor program. "The program is making great strides. However, this chick and the entire flock face many challenges that must be overcome to achieve a self-sustaining population."
The greatest obstacle to a self-sustaining condor population is lead toxicity from spent ammunition. Cooperative efforts are underway to reduce mortality rates from lead contamination in condors. The Arizona Game and Fish Department offers a free non-lead ammunition program, started in 2005, in an attempt to reduce lead exposure for wild condors. Hunters have responded positively to using non-lead ammunition in condor range, although expanded adoption of the effort is needed to further reduce lead exposure and mortality in condors.
The chicks are expected to fledge in December when they are about six months old. Four out of five of the previously wild-hatched chicks have survived and assimilated into the flock.
"These hatchlings are a significant step in recovering a magnificent bird," said Benjamin N. Tuggle, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Wild-hatched condors are part of the plan for re-establishing a truly wild population of California Condors."
Condors were added to the federal endangered species list in 1967. In 1982 there were only 22 California Condors in existence and in 1987 the last birds were removed from the wild for captive breeding to save the species from extinction. Today, more than 300 birds exist, with nearly half of those released to the wild in California, Mexico and at the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona.
The condor is the largest flying land bird in North America. The birds can weigh up to 26 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 9 1/2 feet.
Condors were first reintroduced in Arizona in 1996. There are now 69 condors (59 wild and 10 awaiting release) in the state. Visitors at the Grand Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs may be able to observe the birds, especially during the spring and summer.
The condor reintroduction in Arizona is a joint project of many partners, including Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Peregrine Fund, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Kaibab National Forest and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
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