Photograph courtesy of AP Photo/National Park Service, Gavin Emmonds
At first the egg rocked back and forth and made noises that surprised its first-time parents. After a few more days passed, the egg began to crack until an endangered condor chick broke through its shell, becoming the first one to hatch within Pinnacles National Monument in Central California in more than a century, biologists announced this week.
“It’s a great milestone for the park and our program,” says Daniel George, the condor program manager at the monument. There and at four other release sites on the West Coast, conservationists are working to bring the birds back from the brink of extinction.
A pair of condors released as part of a captive breeding program, which is credited with saving the birds from certain doom, laid an egg in the wild in March. (See our post about that here.) As part of an ongoing study conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Condor Recovery Program, biologists are researching the effects of contaminants on eggs laid in the wild, so they took the egg from the nest and replaced it with an egg laid in captivity. “It’s a foster egg,” says George.
The grapefruit-sized chick that emerged is the 27th wild California condor around Pinnacles National Monument. That flock accounts for about 15 percent of the entire free-flying population, which was decimated by habitat destruction and ingestion of lead ammunition fragments in carcasses.
Despite obstacles, the numbers are slowly increasing with the help of new condor pairs that typically mate for life. So far, the new parents are behaving as expected, taking turns keeping their little one warm and searching for carrion. “Their development and behavior look good right now,” says George. The chick will stay with its parents for a year, waiting five and a half to six months to fledge, when its wingspan will reach no less than nine and a half feet.
All the while, recovery program officials will monitor the chick and its parents, observing where they go, what they eat, and how they fare. “Now that we’ve got a wild flock, we’re getting to a stage where we can see the bird again in its natural environment.”