ST. GEORGE — The California Condor chick in Zion National Park, which park biologists estimated to have hatched May 9, 2019, is set to celebrate its first birthday soon.
The chick, Condor 1,000, nicknamed 1K, is the first chick to successfully fledge in the park, exciting park biologists and visitors alike since it was spotted outside the nest in September 2019.
Park officials were first made aware that the chick had fledged when a group of visitors saw it outside of the nest on Sept. 25. Park biologists confirmed the sighting later that day.
Though its first official sighting outside the nest was in September, park biological science technician Jason Pietrzak said that it was first seen in its nest by volunteers in July of 2019.
“It took a while to be 100%,” Pietrzak said of confirming that the chick had hatched.
Pietrzak said that while everything indicated the bird had indeed hatched and was healthy – the parents had been seen carrying food to the nest site – it was good to have it confirmed by human eyes.
The chick is the first to be born to breeding pair 409, female, and 523, male. According to a post on Zion National Park’s Facebook page, the chick and its parents are still regularly seen together in the park.
The female had previously mated with another male that unfortunately died of lead poisoning, Pietrzak said.
The condor chick and its parents are part of a decades-long California Condor Recovery Program, a multiagency effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recover the endangered California condor population, a previous St. George News report said.
A main private partner in the effort, the Peregrine Fund, which manages day to day monitoring of the population, began breeding the carrion birds in captivity in Boise, Idaho in 1993.
One of Condor 1K’s parents, the male, was bred at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Pietrzak said. The female was bred at the San Diego Zoo.
Birds in the Peregrine Fund’s recovery program go to release sites in Arizona, California and Baja Mexico, according to information on the fund’s website.
California Condors that have made their way to Zion National Park are part of release efforts that take place every September on National Public Lands Day at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona.
The female condor parent was released at Vermillion Cliffs in 2008, and the male condor parent was released at Vermillion Cliffs in 2011.
The California Condor, North America’s largest flying land bird, is a critically endangered species. Condor 1K is the 1,000th chick to be born since recovery efforts began, but one of the primary causes of California Condor deaths, lead poisoning, is largely preventable.
Information from the Peregrine Fund’s website said the following:
Long before humans arrived in North America, these finely tuned scavengers relied in part on hunters – sabertooth cats and other large predators – for carrion. Condors’ clean-up role hasn’t changed, but new hunters to the scene can unintentionally leave behind a deadly contaminant: lead from spent ammunition.
The California Condor is a hardy species that survived mass extinctions of the last Ice Age, yet the entire population was reduced to just 22 individuals by the 1980s. Scientists suspected that lead poisoning played a role in the species’ decline, and recent research by The Peregrine Fund confirmed that over half of all condor deaths are due to this one preventable cause.
Pietrzak said the Condor chick has had an important impact on educating the public about the large scavenger birds and why recovery efforts are so important.
“I think it’s huge,” Pietrzak said. “It is important visitors learn we have these magnificent birds that are so critically endangered and rare on the whole planet.”
Since the chick was first spotted in September of 2019, thousands of visitors have been able to view the bird either from the popular Angel’s Landing Trail or from the Big Bend pullout along the main canyon scenic drive.
“It’s been really huge for everybody in the park. Most condor chicks are not hatched in places where the public can easily see them,” Pietrzak said.
Volunteer efforts have played a major part in studying Zion’s California Condors and educating the public, Pietrzak said.
On any given day in the park, volunteers can regularly be seen at the Big Bend pullout with binoculars and spotting scopes to help visitors view the birds. Volunteers are also often stationed at Scout Lookout on the Angel’s Landing Trail with all sorts of educational tools, including a replica egg, a condor feather and information about recovery efforts.
Pietrzak said the volunteers have been really dedicated to the condors.
“They just love these birds,” he said.
Though the national park is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some limited volunteer work is still ongoing. The chick continues to be spotted flying in the area near the nest site and has also been spotted in Springdale, which borders the park’s South entrance, he said.
Currently, there are nearly 100 California Condors in the region spanning from the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park, Pietrzak said.
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