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Condor chick in nest. Credit: USFWS
condor chick in nest

Condor Recovery in California

A California condor chick's online debut this spring may have looked wobbly — a 35–second video from Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge showed an unsteady grey fur ball with a yellow head. ( But to refuge biologists, the week–old condor and four fellow hatchlings represent real progress in recovery efforts for the federally endangered species.

The biologists are able to use spotting scopes to confirm egg hatchings in two of Hopper Mountain Refuge’s five nests. But to see inside the other nests and view any hatchlings, the biologists have to ascend sandstone cliffs and rappel down by rope. According to Michael Woodbridge, refuge information and education specialist, if an egg hadn’t hatched after about 60 days, biologists would have replaced it with one from a partner zoo. So far, 30–day checkups with blood tests show the chicks doing well.

Six months ago, the condor population reached a milestone. There are more birds in the wild than in captivity for the first time since captive breeding of the majestic birds began in 1987. At that time, the world population of condors had fallen to a mere 23 birds. In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began re–releasing captive–bred condors into the wild, while working with partners including the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Oregon Zoo and the World Center for Birds of Prey to monitor the birds and ensure genetic diversity.

Today, there are 337 condors worldwide — 183 of them in the wilds of Arizona and California.

Condors, which can live up to 40 years in captivity, begin breeding at about six years of age. They reproduce every other year and lay only one egg per nest; chicks stay with their parents for eight months.

"It’s a great thing to see," said Woodbridge of the recovery milestone. "It lets people know, hey, we're on the right track. We're making progress. We're not out of the woods yet — but we're getting there."

Contact: Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge at 805–644–5185.
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