FILLMORE, Calif. – The last of the three California condor chicks to be laid and hatched in the wild since 1984 was found dead in its nest cave in the Los Padres National Forest near Fillmore, Calif., Oct. 21.
The cause of death is yet to be determined.
The first chick hatched May 11 was found dead Oct. 4, the second chick hatched April 11 was found dead in its cave Oct. 13. The latest chick found dead was hatched April 28.
Concentrated efforts. After the first two chicks were found dead biologists concentrated their efforts on getting a visual of the last remaining chick, who they had only seen a handful of times due to the remote location of the nest cave.
Allan Mee of the Zoological Society of San Diego, who has been monitoring condor nesting behaviors since January, discovered the latest death as well as the second.
Still recovering from a long and difficult hike to recover the second chick’s body last week, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Greg Austin again set out with a team to retrieve the body of the last remaining chick.
“This is not what I expected to be doing today, but this has to be done and it has to be done quickly. We need to get the body to the lab as soon as possible.”
The body once recovered will be taken to San Diego Zoo for necropsy. A preliminary lab report on the first chick has still not provided a cause of death, although it was determined to have no detectable levels of lead.
The necropsy on the second chick, revealed a dozen bottle caps, shards of plastic and glass in the crop and stomach. Pathologists suspect the death of the second chick was caused directly or indirectly by these foreign objects.
Parent birds. The parent birds condors #107 and #112 were hatched in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1994 and were released in the wild in 1995.
Biologists anticipate that this pair, along with the other pair #098 and #155, who lost their chick, will again breed in the coming season.
“A certain level of mortality is expected in any reintroduction program and although this is a sad day for everyone involved, having had three chicks laid and hatched in the wild this year is still a great success for the California Condor Program,” said Marc Weitzel, manager of the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, which supervises condor recovery in southern California.
In the wild. There are 75 condors now living in the wild in California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico and 126 in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.
The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically separate populations, one in California and the other in Arizona, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.
The largest bird in North America, condors are scavengers that have soared over mountainous areas of California since prehistoric times, but their numbers plummeted in the 20th century.
Condor numbers declined in part due to loss of habitat and food and from shooting, lead poisoning and toxic substances used to poison predators.
Condors were listed as an endangered species in 1967, under a law that pre-dated the existing Endangered Species Act. In 1982, the condor population reached its lowest level of 22 birds, prompting service biologists to start collecting chicks and eggs for a captive breeding program.
By late 1984, only 15 condors remained in the wild. After seven condors died in rapid succession, it was decided to bring the remaining birds in from the wild for the captive breeding program.
In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began releasing California condors back into the wild.
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