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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
HOPPER MOUNTAIN NWR: Wild Condor Chicks Hatching; Recovery Program Continues Successful Nest Guarding Initiative
Region 8, May 1, 2009
A 7-day-old California condor chick stays close to dad in a nest cave near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex. (photo: Blake Massey USFWS)
A 7-day-old California condor chick stays close to dad in a nest cave near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex. (photo: Blake Massey USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a
California condor #107 stays close to the nest while FWS biologists check the egg for fertility. (photo: Michael Woodbridge)
California condor #107 stays close to the nest while FWS biologists check the egg for fertility. (photo: Michael Woodbridge) - Photo Credit: n/a

by Michael Woodbridge, Hopper Mountain NWR
Before dawn on a brisk April morning, two Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex (NWRC) employees working on the California Condor Recovery Program (Recovery Program) begin an arduous hike across a steep canyon near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.  When they reach their destination, a steep slope just above a sandstone cliff, they build an anchor for the biologist, who rappels down ropes to a dusty cavity on the cliff face.  To his delight, he spots a ball of white downy feathers, about the size of a grapefruit, behind two proud and protective California condor parents.  The egg laid by condors #107 and #161 had hatched and now there was a five-to-seven-day-old condor nuzzling up to its parents in the nest.  After relaying the discovery to staff back at the Refuge Complex office in Ventura, the biologist ascends the ropes and the team prepares for the grueling hike out.

The “nest entry” described above is one of many that will be performed over the next couple months by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employees working on the Recovery Program.  April and May are commonly the time of year when California condor eggs hatch in the wild nests of Southern and Central California.

Throughout the nesting period, FWS staff, interns and volunteers monitor condor nests during daylight hours to record bird behavior and watch for observable dangers and threats to the condors, as well as their eggs and chicks.  This “Nest Monitoring Program” is facilitated by the Santa Barbara Zoo, in collaboration with the FWS and other Recovery Program partners.  Observations begin in late fall when condors begin their courtship.  The paired birds lay one egg generally between late January and April.  The egg incubates for 56 to 58 days and hatches in spring.  Then it’s another five-to-six months before the young chick fledges, followed by another eight months of parental care.

FWS biologists and zoo veterinarians regularly check eggs and chicks for health and perform interventions to aid ailing chicks when their lives are threatened.  The nest guarding efforts have increased the number of successful wild fledglings.  This season, there are five active nests in Southern California, with more in Central California, Arizona and Baja, Mexico.

To see a short video clip of #107 and #161’s week-old condor chick, click here: http://www.fws.gov/cno/press

Contact Info: Michael Woodbridge, 916-978-4445, michael_woodbridge@fws.gov