Zion California Condor chick is 1,000th to be born in recovery program

ST. GEORGE — The California Condor chick that recently hatched in Zion National Park has been deemed the 1,000th chick to be born in a recovery program seeking to restore the bird’s dwindling population. 

Zion biologists estimate that the egg, which was originally laid mid-March, hatched in early May.

The park is excited to be home to the latest chick in the California Condor Recovery Program, a multiagency effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recover the endangered California condor population, park spokesperson Eugenne Moisa said. 

Zion is a member of the Southwest Condor Working Group, which is specific to Utah and Arizona, where condors currently live naturally. The group is made up of several partners, including the the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private partners, including the Peregrine Fund, which manages day to day monitoring of the population.

“After over two decades of efforts to restore condors to the southwest, it is nice to take a moment to reflect on the steady and slow progress made and thank those who have contributed so much, like Zion National Park, to see this effort through. We have a long way to go, but today we celebrate this milestone.” Chris Parish, director of conservation for the Peregrine Fund, said in a press release.

Female condor 409 near her nest where chick 1,000 lives in Zion National Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

Zion’s chick is the latest to be born since the program began in 1992. Every condor born in the program receives a numbered tag, and this one will receive No. 1,000. 

“Having the 1,000th chick in the Condor Recovery Program is a step in the right direction,” Moisa told St. George News. “We’re super excited. Our biologist and the park rangers here were all excited that the program itself is doing well enough that it’s gotten to that 1,000th chick.” 

Park biologists have been monitoring the chick from below its nest on the cliff face of the Minotaur Tower at Big Bend using a spotting scope. From this vantage, they are able to watch the adult condors’ behavior in bringing food back to the nest, indicating that the chick is alive and doing well. 

The chick won’t begin to fledge until November, Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a Springdale Town Council meeting Wednesday. 

A top-down view of the California condor nest in Zion National Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

“The chick is alive. We don’t see that much until they get a little bit older and start hanging out at the edge of the hole where the nest is,” he said. “It seems to be developing well, and if that continues, then we would look for it to fledge, probably this fall.”

Condor parents work together to incubate an egg, which is usually laid on the floor of a cave. The incubation period usually lasts around 57 days, and the hatching process can take up to three days, according to a press release from the park. 

Parent condors feed their young regurgitated meat until they are up to a year old, even though the chick will take its first flight and leave the nest at around six months. By time the chick has left the nest, the parents will have missed the breeding season, meaning they can only produce one offspring every two years at most.

The chick’s parents are female condor 409, which was hatched at the San Diego Zoo in 2006 and released at the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in 2008, and male condor 523, hatched in 2009 at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, and released at Vermillion Cliffs in 2011. 

Female condor 409 near her nest where chick 1,000 lives in Zion National Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

The pair has been together for two years since 409’s first mate, condor 337, died of lead poisoning in 2016. This is 409’s third confirmed chick. Her two prior chicks didn’t survive long enough to leave the nest. 

So far, none of the condors in Zion have managed to raise a chick to adulthood. Park officials hope that No. 1,000 will be the first. 

Lead poisoning is the leading cause of diagnosed death for condors in Southern Utah and Arizona. As scavengers, condors get lead poisoning when they ingest the remains of an animal shot by lead-based ammunition.

Officials recommend that hunters use non-lead ammunition, such as copper bullets, when shooting animals of any size. Alternatively, all remains of the animal should be removed from the field if shot with lead-based ammunition. For more information regarding non-lead ammunition, visit the Hunting with Non-lead website.

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Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

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