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California Condor Egg Hatches in Pinnacles National Monument

Biologists have verified the hatching of a condor egg inside Pinnacles National Monument. As expected, adult male condor #318 and adult female #317 are currently taking turns tending to the young nestling.

Unlike the California condor nest in the park in 2010, this year's site is at a remote, not easily accessible location. There are no plans for public viewing opportunities at the nest.

The species can live to be around 50 years old and has one of the longest nesting cycles among birds. Young condors spend 5 1/2 to 6 months in the nest before taking their first flight in the autumn.

The same breeding pair, #318 and #317, was in the news in 2010 when they nested inside Pinnacles National Monument. During a routine health check of the nestling they were tending, biologists discovered the chick had a high blood lead value. The chick was evacuated from the nest and taken to the Los Angeles Zoo for veterinary care.

Now known as condor #550, the young bird's blood lead levels improved during treatment last summer and is now being raised with other juveniles being prepared for release to the wild. The nestling turned 1 year old on March 24.

Research by scientists at UC Santa Cruz indicates spent lead-based ammunition is responsible for roughly 90 percent of lead poisoning events in condors. Preliminary testing using the same isotopic fingerprinting techniques suggests the source of lead exposure to #550 and her male parent #318 was something different. Final results are expected later this year.

Because adult condors sometimes bring small bits of litter (microtrash) to their nestlings, presumably mistaking them for bone or shell fragments, potential trash sources are being investigated such as paint chips, plastic pieces, washers, electrical components, and bottle caps.

Preliminary results suggest there may be a link between the lead poisoning of condor #550 and microtrash brought to the nest last year by the parents. The National Park Service supports reducing all potential sources of lead exposure in the environment and is taking proactive, precautionary measures to remove lead paint from an historic fire tower located in the park.

Biologists will continue to monitor the current nest and are developing plans for release of additional captive-reared condors in the autumn, at a similar time of year when the birds fledge in the wild. Current plans include releasing condor #550 back to the wild in September or October.
For more information on the Pinnacles condor program, please visit the Pinnacles National Monument Web site.

History of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

Condors maintained a strong population in the American West until the mid-19th century, when shooting, marine mammal population declines, egg collecting, and habitat degradation began to take a heavy toll. Between the mid-1880s and 1924, there were scattered reports of condors in Arizona. But by the late 1930s, all remaining condors were found only in California and by the early 1980s, the total population had dwindled to just 22 birds.

As a result of the continued downward spiral of the condor population, the California condor was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1967. In the early 1980s, an intensive captive breeding program rescued the species from extinction and in the 1990s reestablishment efforts began in southern California. Since that time, four other release sites have also been launched.

The current world population of California condors numbers 369. Ninety-nine birds are flying free in California, twenty in Baja Mexico, and seventy-three in Arizona. An additional 177 are in captive breeding centers.

Partners in Recovery

There are currently five condor release sites in western North America - Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Pinnacles National Monument operated by the National Park Service, Big Sur Coast operated by the Ventana Wildlife Society, Vermillion Cliffs operated by the Peregrine Fund, and El Parque Nacional San Pedro Mártir in Baja California - a joint venture of the Zoological Society of San Diego and several Mexican agencies and organizations.

There are four captive rearing facilities involved in Condor Recovery - The Los Angeles Zoo, The San Diego Wild Animal Park, The Oregon Zoo, and the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.

Santa Barbara Zoo additional has captive condors on display and assists he US Fish and Wildlife Service with monitoring of nesting activity in Southern California.

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