U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Pacific Region
News Release
June 19, 2001
  Department of the Interior
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
2493 Portola Road
Ventura, CA 93022
Phone: 805/644-1766
Fax: 805/644-3958

Contact: John Brooks, Greg Austin, or Marc Weitzel - (805) 644-5185





Biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Los Angeles Zoo this week switched an artificial California condor egg with a captive-reared egg that is expected to hatch soon in hopes that the endangered birds will learn how to raise a chick in the wild at their nest in the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County.

Meanwhile, an egg retrieved from the same nest three weeks ago that would likely not have survived in the wild hatched June 17 at the Los Angeles Zoo after receiving extensive care from biologists there. The chick is being raised by captive adult condors that have previous parenting experience. The young condor, whose sex has yet to be determined, appears to be in good health and the captive birds have accepted the newly-hatched condor as their own.

"These are extraordinary events in the California condor recovery program," said Marc Weitzel, project leader at Hopper Mt. National Wildlife Refuge complex near Ventura, which manages the southern California release program. "Now, for the first time, we have a chick hatched from wild parents, and free-flying condors that may soon be raising a chick in the wild."

"For the first time in 15 years, California condors are breeding in the wild," said Susie Kasielke, Los Angeles Zoo curator of birds. "This is the biggest milestone for the recovery program since we began releasing condors to the wild in 1992."

Two female condors occupying the same nest cave produced one egg each after mating with a single male. This is only the second time since 1982 that condors have attempted to nest in the wild, and is unusual because two females occupy the same nest. Bruce Palmer, condor coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was present during the egg switch and said the most attentive female condor returned to the nest and sat on the egg 20 minutes after it was placed there.

The first objective in switching eggs was to provide the wild birds the most experience possible in proceeding through the nesting cycle. The condors will take several breeding attempts to learn all the appropriate behaviors to successfully raise a chick. Assisting the birds now will greatly enhance the possibility that they can successfully raise a chick next year. The second objective is to see a chick raised in a truly wild setting.

On June 1 biologists from the Service, Los Angeles Zoo, and Zoological Society of San Diego removed two eggs from the condor nest and replaced them with a single fake egg. One of the eggs taken from the nest was dead and the other was in danger of dying from exposure and development complications. Scientists believe that inexperience played a primary role in the adult birds' confused incubation behavior as they continually switched places in an attempt to incubate the eggs. One female condor continued to incubate the fake egg until biologists replaced it June 18 with an egg laid by a condor at the Los Angeles Zoo. The three adult condors at the nest site were released to the wild in 1995.

In moving the zoo-reared egg to the wild, biologists waited until the embryo began to pierce the egg's inner air cell before transporting it by helicopter from the Los Angeles Zoo to the condor nest. When the embryo begins this process, it takes about a week before it hatches.

"Condor parents often help a chick out of the egg by tearing at the shell, very gently," said Greg Austin, supervisor for the Service's field program at Hopper Mt. National Wildlife Refuge. "Although they're large birds, they can be very delicate when it comes to an egg."

In 1987, the last of 27 California condors were removed from the wild and brought into the captive breeding program. Reintroductions to the wild of juvenile captive-bred condors began in 1992. Condors do not reach maturity until they are six or seven years old. This is the first year that reintroduced condors laid eggs in the wild. Currently, there are 34 condors in the wild in two areas in California, and 23 free-flying condors in the Grand Canyon area in Arizona. On March 25, 2001, the first egg laid by reintroduced condors was discovered in the Grand Canyon by biologists working for The Peregrine Fund, which manages the release program there. That egg was broken by the condors and the nesting attempt failed. There are 130 California condors being held in captivity.

Condors are scavenging birds that soared over the Southern California mountains and other areas since prehistoric times but their numbers plummeted in the 20th century. The causes of their decline are not completely known but lead poisoning is believed to be among the factors. Condors were listed as an endangered species in 1967, under a law that predated the existing Endangered Species Act. In 1982, the condor population reached its lowest level of 22, prompting Service biologists to start collecting condor chicks and eggs for a captive breeding program. By late 1984, only 15 condors remained in the wild and six of them died within a short period, several from lead poisoning. Lead poisoning occurs after scavenging birds such as condors, turkey vultures, golden eagles and bald eagles eat the meat of dead animals that contain lead fragments from bullets.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically separate populations, one in California and the other in Arizona, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Egg exchanged at condor nest site by FWS biologist Greg Austin




NOTE: This news release and others can be viewed on either the Services Pacific Regional home page on the internet at http://pacific.fws.gov or the national home page at http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases.html

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Privacy Notice.