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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Denise Stockton, Mike Stockton (805) 644-5185

Los Angeles Zoo -  Judy Shay (323) 644-4273

Condor Chick Brought In From The Wild

A four-month-old condor chick hatched in the wild last May was airlifted to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment. On September 9, during an examination by a team of biologists, a zookeeper and a veterinarian, the chick was found to be suffering from a blockage of the digestive track and signs of respiratory distress. The team had entered the nest cave in the Los Padres National Forest to administer the West Nile Virus Vaccine, affix tags and transmitters to its wings, and give the chick a physical examination. The examination revealed it to be underweight and undersize for its age and to have foreign objects lodged in its crop. (The crop is a muscular pouch located in front of a bird's neck near the throat. It is essentially a part of the esophagus and functions as a storage place for food.)

It was then decided to remove the chick from the nest for a full examination. The chick was flown by helicopter to the Los Angeles Zoo on September 11. The chick regurgitated the items during the night at the zoo and they turned out to be a combination of plastic, glass, bone and metal. The veterinarian staff determined that the chick’s health was too compromised to return it to the nest. In addition to being undersize the chick had shed its tail and secondary feathers to conserve energy, this is also one of the factors that weighed into the decision not to return it to the nest. The chick, although weakened is still vigorous and it is hoped that it will recover and be released back into the wild next Spring.

The year 2002 saw the successful hatching of three condor chicks. This was the first time condors raised chicks until almost fledging in 19 years. All three chicks perished at about five months of age. One of those chicks died due to ingesting foreign objects. Due to the location and accessibility of the nest cave and the loss of the chicks last year, this year’s chick was being monitored very closely and the nest cave had been entered on two previous occasions to check for debris. The nest is located in the Los Padres National Forest near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, the base of operations for the southern California condor release program.

There are 222 condors in existence, with 85 condors living in the wild in California, Arizona and Baja, and 137 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. A pair of California condors in the Grand Canyon, Arizona have produced a chick for the first time. According to biologists it appears healthy and is expected to fledge in November.

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 predated the existing Endangered Species Act. In 1982, the condor population reached its lowest level of 22 birds, prompting 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 Recovery Program began releasing California condors back into the wild.

The California Condor Recovery Program is built upon a foundation of private and public partnerships. The focus of the condor recovery effort is the release of captive reared condors to the wild to ultimately establish self-sustaining populations. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for coordinating the conservation of the California condor, working with the Los Padres National Forest, California Department of Fish and game, and several private partners. Private organizations and institutions are not just interested observers, but are active and essential participants in the implementation of the recovery program, contributing personnel, expertise, institutional support, and funding. California condor captive breeding programs are operated at San Diego Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo, and The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey. Release programs in California are managed by Ventana Wilderness Society and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge; the Arizona release is managed by The Peregrine Fund; the Baja California, Mexico release is managed by the Zoological Society of San Diego and the Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada in Ensenada, Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

For more information on the California Condor Recovery Program visit the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex home page at


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