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California condors nearly died out, and now the 1,000th chick hatched. How’d that happen?

Endangered condors successfully hatch chick at Zion National Park

Zion National Park biologist think rare, endangered California condors at the Utah tourist attraction hatched a chick, based on nest behavior caught on video and when the egg was laid.
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Zion National Park biologist think rare, endangered California condors at the Utah tourist attraction hatched a chick, based on nest behavior caught on video and when the egg was laid.

The 1,000th California condor chick recently hatched in the mountains of Utah, National Park Service officials confirmed this month.

The egg was laid in mid-March in a nest on the cliffs just north of Angels Landing in Zion National Park, according to a Park Service news release dated July 9.

Rangers at Zion suspected the egg had hatched back in late May due to the condor parents’ behavioral changes, according to the Sacramento Bee. Janice Stroud-Settles, a wildlife biologist at Zion National Park, told The Guardian that researchers were only able to verify the chick’s existence by “rappelling off a cliff across from the birds’ nest cave.” When they saw the chick, they took a picture.

“When we confirmed it ... it was just this feeling of overwhelming joy,” Stroud-Settles told the publication.

Officials said the nesting pair, female condor 409 and male condor 523, have been together for about two years.

Condor 409 previously had two chicks with another mate: One of the chicks died in 2014 and the other disappeared in September 2016, Zion National Park said in a Facebook post. The mate died of lead poisoning in June 2016.

“We are keeping a close watch, hoping that this chick will be her first chick to fledge successfully, this November,” the National Park Service said in the release.

The California condor was federally designated as an endangered species in 1967, and by 1982 there were just 23 condors left in the world, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 1987, the entire world’s population of California condors — 27 — were in captivity, housed in two facilities in Southern California, in an attempt to help revive the species, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The condor population has increased since, with just under 490 condors counted worldwide as of 2018, according to a population survey. About 310 of those are wild and flying free.

The chick born in Zion National Park is the 1,000th chick to hatch since officials launched recovery efforts in the 1980s, but many of those chicks ultimately did not survive. Though the population has grown, the species is still classified as endangered and faces ongoing threats — mostly from humans.

The greatest threat to condors is lead poisoning, which happens when they feed on carcasses that contain lead bullet fragments. Another threat is “micro trash,” small items like bottle caps, which condor parents collect and then feed to their chick, which can cause problems with the chick’s development.

California condors are one of the largest flying birds in the world and can glide for long distances over a period of hours, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. At one time, their range spanned from California to Texas and beyond, but the birds’ current range is much smaller: Condors are now only found in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California in Mexico.

In June, a livestream was set up for people to watch an endangered California condor chick that hatched in the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County on April 10.

And in November 2018, a California condor chick took flight from a nest in the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County, marking the first time a condor chick successfully fledged there in more than 30 years.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.
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