The Once Almost-Extinct California Condor Is Growing In Numbers; 1000th Chick Just Hatched!

The Once Almost-Extinct California Condor Is Growing In Numbers; 1000th Chick Just Hatched!

The condor chick just hatched in the wild, and this signifies an optimistic future for the species, which was all but extinct a few decades ago.

A couple of decades ago, the California Condor, North America's largest bird, was considered almost extinct. As a result of hunting, diminishing food and dwindling territory, the number of birds in the wild numbered just 22 in the early 1980s, according to The Guardian. The 9.5-feet wingspan birds also fell prey to lead poisoning, inadvertently ingesting bullets that hunters left inside dead animals that the massive condors scavenged for food. But now, due to the efforts of conservationists, the condor is making a comeback - the 1000th condor chick just hatched in the wild. 


The dwindling species of wild birds were rounded up and placed in a captive breeding program in 1987, and gradually released into the wild starting in 1990. Today, more than 300 California condors exist in the wild. Including captivity breeding programs, there are more than 500 in the world, Tim Hauck, the condor program manager at the Peregrine Fund, told NPR. After noticing that one condor couple seemed to be taking shifts scavenging for food, “we suspected that they’d hatched a new chick”, said Janice Stroud-Settles, a wildlife biologist at Zion National Park in Utah. Field researchers eventually captured a photo of the 1,000th chick after rappelling off a cliff across from the birds’ nest cave. “When we confirmed it … it was just this feeling of overwhelming joy,” she told The Guardian. Biologists estimate that the chick hatched in May, but could only confirm it last week as the raptors build their nests in caves carved into often inaccessible cliffs. 


Hauck told NPR that this milestone signifies an optimistic future for the recovery of the species. "We're seeing more chicks born in the wild than we ever have before," he told NPR. "And that's just a step towards success for the condor and achieving a sustainable population." The 1000th chick's parents were born in captivity, according to Stroud-Settles, and the mother had already lost two chicks. Experts are hoping that the 1000th chick can successfully leave the nest in November. The oldest bird being tracked in the condor restoration program is 24 years old, but researchers estimate that California condors can live up to 70 years. They are very social birds who get together in large groups and tend to mate for life. 


A 1,001st chick has also hatched, born to parents bred in captivity. It was found in a nest near the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and researchers are currently searching for up to four more chicks that may have hatched since, reports say. "Condors are one of the very unique species of birds in North America and in the world, for that matter. They're extremely personable," Hauck explained to NPR. "They'll have individual personalities. And as biologists, we really get to know these birds on a one-to-one level, so they end up meaning quite a bit to us, and we get quite attached."

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