For the first time in a century, a California condor chick has been born in the wild in Arizona.
Sophie Osborn of the Peregrine Fund and Chad Olson of the National Park Service spotted the chick Saturday at the Salt Creek Cave. Olson saw it first through a scope and Osborne confirmed it, the Peregrine Fund’s Jeff Cilek said.
"It was amazing; I was waiting to see if I was imagining it," said Olson, who works as a raptor technician for the NPS. "It was incredible to watch the parents."
Condors 123 and 127 are parents of the nestling, estimated to be 18 to 26 weeks of age.
"The chick was right on the edge of the nest cave sitting on a rock preening and looking around," said Sophie Osborn, field manager for The Peregrine Fund. "The setting so timeless, remote, and magnificent that I wondered how it could be the only one of its kind in such a vast tremendous place."
The wildlife biologists watched the condor in and around the cave, which has an entrance of 12 feet wide by 5 feet in height. It’s difficult to see into the cave because of no sunlight. The cave is at the top of a 400-foot cliff.
Olson thought he saw something off to the left of the cace entrance through his binoculars. After putting them down, he took a look through his scope and then asked Osborn to take a look. The chick was on a rock at the edge of the cave.
Osborn and Olson also saw one of the parents feed the condor toward the back of the cave. The chick, which appeared to be healthy, then came out to the edge and cleaned its beak.
The pair completed a 24-mile round-trip hike in 100-degree heat to the Salt Creek Cave site, leaving on Friday. The chick was seen the following day.
Since February, biologists suspected that condors 123 and 127 were incubating an egg. Suddenly, in April the behavior of the pair changed and they became very attentive to the nest, switching nest duty on a daily basis.
Due to the location and depth of the nest, however, the only way for biologists to confirm the existence of a nestling was to wait until the chick was old enough to move to a location in the nest where it could be seen.
"Although park and Peregrine Fund biologists have been confident of a viable chick nesting within the redwall from the daily observations, we are thrilled at this visual confirmation," said Joe Alston, Grand Canyon National Park superintendent. "This chick faces a daunting task for survival. We will continue to monitor the chick and provide full protection to the nesting area as the last four weeks prior to fledging are critical. Restoration of condors marks a monumental event in the Colorado Plateau."
The Salt Creek site is the last of three nests that biologists were monitoring in Arizona this year. Two other nests produced eggs but neither were successful. In California this year one egg was laid and hatched in early May.
For a biologist like Olson, the moment of seeing the chick will be something he will likely always remember.
"It was great to see such a healthy, energetic chick," Olson said. "It was alert and active. After the female fed it, it bounced around the cave like a little rabbit. It was indescribable to see the first condor chick in Arizona in more than 100 years in a setting like the Grand Canyon."
On another front, the Phoenix Zoo successfully treated condors 203 and 235 who had lead fragments in their digestive systems. Both condors were suspected to have ingested lead from a coyote carcass on the Kaibab Plateau.
Biologists plan to re-release the two birds later this week.