Since the area that the mated pair chose for their nesting sight is not a place that can be easily viewed from the ground, Zion National Park Chief of Resource Management and Research Fred Armstrong said it may be months before experts receive a visual confirmation of the new chick.
He said that patterns of behavior have been strong indicators for the arrival of the new youngster, patterns that have been monitored by GPS and radio transmitter devices through the The Peregrine Fund.
According to a press release, TPF is a cooperative organization in northern Arizona and southern Utah who works with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Arizona Game and Fish Department, to monitor the reintroduction and recovery of the California Condor.
“It was only a matter of time before birds started nesting in Utah,” said TPF Condor Field Project Supervisor Chris Parish. “There is great habitat in Utah and the condors did not take long to find it.”
Since early April, Armstrong said that a pair of California condors, one male, one female has taken turns guarding a nesting site. He said that given the estimated gestation period of a California condor egg, there is very little that has been left to conjecture at this point.
“They started demonstrating what you would call nesting behavior,” Armstrong said. “And they don’t build nests of sticks or straw, instead what they do, is they find a nesting cavity and that’s where they lay their egg.”
He said that once an egg has been laid, the male and female condors take turns alternating care for their egg – switching off every two to three days to allow their mate time to scavenge and exercise their wings, but still ensure the warmth and safety of their unborn chick.
Armstrong said the nesting behavior began in early April, and given the incubation period of the California condor’s offspring, around 26 days, he said TPF biologists can almost guarantee that a new life arrived some time in late April.
“We were all kind of thinking we would have a baby chick some time around April 26,” Armstrong said. “And then that day came and went, and the birds continued to display that same pattern of one of them being there for a couple of days and one of them foraging.”
He said this behavior would reveal one of two likely scenarios, either a chick was born, or an egg was unsuccessful, and a new one was laid and was being incubated. By the end of May when the patterns of behavior continued, he said the likelihood that a successful hatching occurred increased exponentially.
“Even beyond the end of May this same switching off type of behavior continued so that’s what made all of the agencies involved say ‘You know what? If the egg had totally failed, or if the chick had been eaten by some kind of predator, there would be no reason for this behavior to continue,” Armstrong said.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Wildlife Biologist Keith Day said in a press release that this milestone is significant in restoring the almost extinct species into their natural habitat. He said that the California condor’s decision to select and reproduce in the habitats provided by Southern Utah and northern Arizona both validates their choice to release them into the region, and protects the species against any cataclysmic events that could hinder the growth of other condor recovery populations in California and Mexico.
“For the past four years, other condors have shown breeding and nesting tendencies within Zion National Park, but they were not successful,” the press release reported. “Sadly, of a recent hopeful pair, one of those condors died in 2012 and the other in 2013 due to lead poisoning.”
It went on to say that the possibility of hatching a viable chick gives good hope for the future of the California condor population, and their ability to raise young in the wild and rehabilitate their species.
More information about the California condor is available at http://www.nps.gov/zion/naturescience/condors.htm