The Southwest Condor Workgroup - a cooperative venture between wildlife conservation and public land management agencies - optimistically reports that a California condor may have hatched in the wild in Utah for the first time since the endangered species was released in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in northern Arizona in 1996. Biologists are waiting to visually confirm the chick's existence before the milestone becomes official, but recent behaviors by the adult pair are encouraging.
"It was only a matter of time before birds started nesting in Utah," says Chris Parish, condor field project supervisor with The Peregrine Fund. "There is great habitat in Utah and the condors did not take long to find it."
The condor pair self-selected a nesting cavity in a remote canyon within Zion National Park and has been under observation by biologists since they began exhibiting courtship behavior this past winter. The nest cave was found by following radio and GPS signals from transmitters mounted on each condor. Earlier this year, the birds displayed behavior indicating they were incubating an egg. Now biologists monitoring the pair have seen one adult staying in the nest cave while the other forages, signs that they may be tending a chick. They trade these roles every few days.
"The cavity is 1,000 feet above the canyon floor so no one has had direct observation of a chick yet. However, if the egg had not been viable, or if a hatchling had died, there would be no reason for the adult condor pair to continue to visit this cave," said The Peregrine Fund Condor Project Manager Eddie Feltes.
Condors have demonstrated breeding and nesting attempts within Zion National Park over the past four years, but none were successful. Sadly, one of the condors from a potential breeding pair died in 2012 and the mate in 2013 due to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning remains the biggest obstacle to successful condor recovery in Arizona and Utah. Condors ingest lead when feeding on the remains of animals shot with lead-based ammunition. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Arizona Game and Fish both have programs that work with hunters to reduce the amount of lead available to condors.
The Peregrine Fund (TPF) leads the species' reintroduction effort in Arizona-Utah with cooperation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service.