The largest soaring land bird in North America, and also one of the most endangered, the California condor has never been observed incubating an egg—until now. A camera now records Sisquoc and Shatash, two condors nesting at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The public can see each parent take a turn patiently sitting on the nearly nine-ounce egg, sometimes nudging it with its beak.
“With California condors, we’re dealing with a species of bird that almost went extinct,” says Michael Mace, curator of birds for the park. “We thought now would be a really good time to be able to show people for the very first time what goes on in the cave of a nest. In many cases, not even field biologists, people who have been working in the wild, have seen this.”
There are so few California condors in existence (fewer than 400), that each egg laid in captivity is moved to an incubator and replaced with an artificial egg in the nest. Biologists will montior the egg until it’s almost ready to hatch in early March, 52 to 54 days after Shatash laid it. Then officials will return the egg to the nest where the parents will help it hatch and grow. All the while, the public will be able to see it break out of its shell, grow feathers, and mature into a fledgling.
Months later, the fledgling may join the other 200 condors in the wild and become one of more than 80 released by the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, part of the California Condor Recovery Program first established in 1982. The park has hatched 171 condors since then. Now, there are additional breeding centers like The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey and the Oregon Zoo that are helping the species recover.
Obstacles like lead poisoning and wind energy development still face the species, but Mace is optimistic that this year the recovery effort might reach two important milestones: 400 birds in the world, 200 of which are in the wild. “The population has grown exponentially very year,” he says. California condors now soar over the California, Arizona, and Baja California, Mexico.
Even if you can’t see them there, you can now see nesting condors on the web cam, a phenomenon that no one has been able to observe before. “We’re looking forward to sharing this with people so they can see the life cycle of a California condor,” says Mace.
For more on these majestic birds, check out these stories:
- "Bad Shot," May-June 2011
- "Shangri-La," March-April 2010
- "Dodging a Bullet,"January-February 2008
- "Project Gutpile," November-December 2002