Cooperative Effort Helps Condor Pairs Become Foster Parents
3 June 2008Two pairs of endangered California Condors are the foster parents of six-week-old chicks, thanks to a lot of delicate maneuvering by biologists in California and Idaho. The two chicks hatched in California on 21 April, one in a nest in Big Sur and the other in a nest in Ventura County.
In early April, researchers who closely monitor the birds learned that each pair was incubating an egg that was not viable and not going to produce a chick. That's when Jesse Grantham of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the help of Susie Kasielke, curator of birds at the Los Angeles Zoo, decided to swap the unproductive eggs with ones in which a healthy chick was developing normally.
"With only eight pairs of condors breeding in the wild in California, we need as much reproductive success as we can get," said Grantham, who coordinates the condor recovery program in California. "Our goal is to create a self-sufficient population of these magnificent birds."
The zoo's captive condors did not have any eggs at the proper stage of development so Grantham and Kasielke contacted The Peregrine Fund, a Boise-based conservation group that raises condors for the recovery program in Arizona. Fortunately, The Peregrine Fund had two eggs that were precisely the right age for a successful swap.
"We were delighted to be able to assist the California recovery effort," said biologist Bill Heinrich, who oversees The Peregrine Fund's condor program.
Chandra David of the LA Zoo and Richard Posey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service boarded a flight to Boise on the morning of 16 April to pick up the eggs and transported them back to California that afternoon. With the cooperation of airport transportation and safety officials, the eggs were taken through security and carried in a specially designed portable incubator.
In Los Angeles, the 52-day-old eggs were kept in artificial incubators for two days. On 18 April, the eggs were put in portable incubators and taken to their new homes in the wild. The eggs were exchanged for the non-viable ones in the nests and the condor pairs-–none the wiser that they were now to become foster parents--sat on the eggs until they successfully hatched three days later.
"The parents are extremely attentive to their chicks and both families are doing well," Kasielke said. "We couldn't have gotten this far without a lot of cooperation by several agencies and organizations. This is collaboration at its finest."
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