May 10

A California condor chick has hatched in the wild at a new nest site near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, northeast of the Grand Canyon. 

This is the 13th chick to have hatched in the wild since captive-bred California condors were first released in 1996. The new chick is expected to take its first flight and join the rest of the wild flock in six months. It will remain dependent on its parents for about 18 months.

Photo of California condor in flight, lateral view

California condor in flight

A boost for conservation efforts 

This is great news for California condor conservation efforts. Prior to reintroduction, the last wild condor in Arizona was sighted just south of the Grand Canyon in 1924. 

Each wild hatchling gives us confidence that condors are well on their way to recovery,” said Chris Parish, condor project director for The Peregrine Fund in Arizona. 

The original decline of the California condor, the largest land bird in North America, followed the extinction of many large mammals. Despite legal protection since 1900, further declines occurred in the 20th Century as a result of human induced pressures such as trapping, shooting, egg collecting and lead poisoning. By the 1980s the population had plunged to just 22 individuals. 

The newest member of the species brings the total number of California condors in the world to 375. Of those, 194 are in the wild, with 74 in the Arizona-Utah population.

Photo of biologist holding a newly hatched California condor at a captive breeding facility

Biologist holding a newly hatched California condor at a captive breeding facility

Biologists began monitoring the nest site several months ago after discovering the parents engaging in courtship and nesting behaviours. By the end of February they had spotted an egg, and then, at the end of April, a chick was spotted.

Strangely, three adults shared the incubation duties and brooding and feeding the chick: one female and two males. This is the first time a trio has reared a chick in the history of the recovery programme. 

The adult condors all hatched at the World Centre for Birds of Prey, located in Boise, Idaho.

Photo of California condor courtship display

California condor courtship display

Prevailing threats 

Lead poisoning remains the biggest threat to the Californian condor. 

The greatest obstacle to a self-sustaining population of California condors continues to be lead poisoning, the leading cause of death,” added Parish. The condors ingest lead fragments after eating the carcases of animals that have been shot with lead bullets. Tiny particles of lead disperse throughout the dead animal, causing lead toxicity in condors when they scavenge on the remains. 

Since 2005, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has offered a voluntary non-lead ammunition programme for hunters in northern Arizona. The rescue of the California condor is an ongoing conservation programme, but the successes so far have been inspiring and the population continues to climb. 

Read the full story at Wildlife Extra – ‘California condor chick hatches in wild

Find out more about the California condor on ARKive. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author