Biologists--treated to the image of a whitish puffball of a chick--have confirmed a California Condor hatching in Arizona. This is only the fourth condor to hatch in the wild in Arizona since the birds were reintroduced there in 1996. This marks a great success for the Condor Recovery Program that's working to bring these birds back from the brink of extinction.
"We're excited to see some consistency with three successful breeding seasons in a row," says Kathy Sullivan, project coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
"It's quite an achievement," says Eddie Feltes, a field biologist with The Peregrine Fund. "Through a scope, I was able to confirm the new chick had hatched at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. I could see the chick's mother craning her head down towards the nestling at her feet. The female condor was looking down toward her feet at a commotion of feathers and debris. Soon after, a chick stood out, contrasted against its mother's dark plumage."
The chick at the monument, along the Arizona-Utah border, may be one of two to arrive this breeding season. Biologists believe a second chick also recently hatched in a remote part the Grand Canyon National Park, although they have not yet seen the chick.
"The same pair that produced a chick at the Grand Canyon two years ago again act as if they hatched a chick in the same nest cave," says Chris Parish, project manager for The Peregrine Fund. "We think they're watching over a nestling that hatched about a month ago."
A third new pair also produced an egg for the first time this season. Producing a "fertile" egg on their first attempt is encouraging despite the fact that it failed to hatch. Past experience indicates the pair is likely to be successful in future breeding attempts.
"The number of pairs now breeding in the wild in California and Arizona is very encouraging and shows that the program is moving forward with recovery as expected," said Jesse Grantham, California Condor coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Back in 1982, only 22 California Condors were left in the world. Efforts to capture and breed those birds have been successful, and condors were reintroduced in Arizona in 1996. Condors are now released throughout the year at the Vermilion Cliffs site. There are 54 condors free-flying in Arizona and a total of 274 California Condors in all, including captive and free-flying birds in Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho, and Baja California.
California Condors have been federally listed as endangered since 1967. The birds can weigh 18 to 22 pounds and have a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet.
The condor reintroduction project in Arizona is a joint project of many partners, including The Peregrine Fund, Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Kaibab National Forest, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Southern Utah's Coalition of Resources and Economics, and numerous other partners.
Funding for the project has been provided by The Peregrine Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Peter Pfendler, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Steve Martin and the Toledo Zoo, Disney Wildlife Conservation Awards, Kearny Alliance, Patagonia, Grand Canyon Conservation Fund, Philadelphia Foundation, S. Byers Trust, Globe Foundation, Conni Williams, Philanthropic Collaborative, Earth Friends, Steve Hoddy, Arizona Bureau of Land Management, and others.
The California Condors are being released as a "non-essential/experimental population" under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. Section 10(j) provides that the species can be released in an area without impacting current or future land use planning. This authority has been spelled out further in an innovative agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local governments. This "Implementation Agreement" spells out a positive working relationship between the federal government and the various local governments.
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