Biologists confirmed early last week that at least three pairs of California condors nesting in Arizona have each produced an egg. Two nests were unsuccessful but biologists are monitoring the third to determine whether one pair may have produced a young condor. If so, it would be the first condor to hatch and survive in Arizona in decades.
The condor recovery program may be reaching new heights this summer.
Behavior from condors 123 and 127 in the “Salt Creek Nest” in the Grand Canyon indicate the presence of a nestling, officials said. Because of the nest’s location, it is impossible to visually confirm the existence of a nestling. For the past three weeks the pair has been very attentive to the nest, switching nest duty on a daily basis.
Andi Rogers, condor biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said that waiting for a condor chick to be old enough to amble out into view is an anxiety ridden and exciting time.
“We all have our fingers crossed that this year we will see the first truly wild condor since the last historical Arizona report in 1924,” she said.
In 2002, after incubating an egg for three months (incubation period for condors is usually 56-58 days), biologists said this pair switched nest duty only every few days. But their current behavior is very different. If a nestling does exist, it could be as old as four weeks.
“Our expectations were exceeded with three nesting pairs,” says Chris Parish, Arizona supervisor for the Peregrine Fund. “A nestling would be an historic step for North America’s largest bird.”
Roger Taylor, field manager for the Arizona Strip BLM field office, said having a possible chick in Arizona was wonderful news.
“It will take time to recover a species like the condor, and these nesting attempts show we are making progress,” Taylor said.
Egg shell fragments were collected from the other two condor nesting sites. After occupying the “Battleship” nest for several weeks, condors 119 and 122 abandoned the site. Climbers from Grand Canyon National Park retrieved egg shell fragments.
Although it could not be confirmed, biologists speculate that the egg failed during the hatching phase. The pair’s efforts in 2002 ended similarly.
Another pair, condors 114 and 133, nested in the Bureau of Land Management’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and laid an egg that failed to hatch. Climbers from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and National Park Service collected egg shell fragments. Biologists said it is not uncommon for California condors to fail in their early nesting attempts.
“National Park Service and Peregrine Fund staff are monitoring the nest cave and birds daily from sunrise to sunset, assisted by a dedicated core of hearty volunteers,” said Elaine Leslie, Grand Canyon National Park wildlife biologist. “Our hope is that by mid to late summer, we will be able to view a condor chick tucked high and safely into the redwall of Grand Canyon National Park, just waiting for that first flight of a wild-reared chick into the Arizona skies.”
Dale Hall, Fish and Wildlife Service southwest regional director, said the reintroduction effort is educational for all.
“These condor pairs and we wildlife managers and researchers are learning a great deal at this important step to establishing a self-sustaining wild population,” Hall said. “A reproductive condor population in the Southwest is essential to the recovery of this once-gravely endangered species.”
Last spring, condors in California hatched three eggs in the wild, however none survived. In California this year, one egg was laid and hatched three weeks ago.