A pair of endangered Californian condor eggs hatched this week at the Oregon Zoo Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation. The first of the duo cracked out its shell Tuesday without any difficulty, but by Thursday the sibling condor needed a helping hand from the zookeepers at the Oregon recovery center in order to hatch successfully.
Veterinarians and zookeepers assisted in the delivery by making a few snips along the shell to allow the little bird to break free. The hatch-helping was administered in an emergency fashion fearing a longer wait would greatly risk the infant California condor’s survival potential, according to Hova Najarian, media and public relations officer of the Oregon Zoo. Stuck inside its shell in a debilitating position, the chick was immobile and could not hatch on its own.
“There are so few of these birds in the world that each new chick is incredibly important to the recovery of the species,” stated Kelli Walker, the zoo’s lead condor keeper. She explained to Portland local news that assistance like this is only dispensed when absolutely necessary. This particular little chick had a rough go of it from the beginning. Since Jan. 25, when the egg was laid, it had to be placed in an incubator, while a dummy egg took its place underneath its parents, Atishwin and Ojai.
After spending its first night outside of its shell, again in an incubator, with a feather duster as a surrogate mother, the baby bird was predicted to be out of harm’s way, and attendants returned the infant creature to its parent’s tutelage.
This delivery comes at an exciting time. The Oregon Zoo’s Condors of the Columbia, an elaborate condor habitat that has been under construction for nearly a year, is expected to open its doors sometime this spring. Although the habitat is strictly for adult birds from the zoo’s recovery program that cannot be released back into the wild, the two new thunderbirds are still viewed as harbingers of good things to come. Despite its name, the California condor is native to Oregon, however, none have been seen in the state outside of captivity for over a century. The Oregon Zoo’s recovery program and visitor appreciation habitat hope to change that.
Zoo visitors will have a first-time opportunity to witness the endangered condors in a habitat equivalent to their natural environment and learn about the survival challenges the giant birds encountered throughout their dubious history. The habitat will feature a 30′ tall aviary with an abundance of native plants, trees, shrubs, boulders, and logs on which the birds can perch, be viewed, and feel free. There will be plenty of pools for the birds to bathe and drown their prey. (It may sound cruel, but it’s how they play.) There will also be covered viewing areas, where visitors can get an up-close and personal panorama of the birds in the captive landscape.
Coincidentally, Friday the San Diego Zoo Safari Park welcomed two California condor babies as well. The chicks were the 183rd and 184th hatches in the park. The San Diego Wildlife Park has made concerted efforts alongside the Oregon recovery program and many other associations to aide in the birds’ survival potential. The babes are a result of the San Diego Zoo Global’s California condor breeding program, and both chicks are hopeful candidates for future release into the wild. Experts anticipate the first second-generation bird will be produced in the wild by a condor released from a habitat.
Its been over 40 years since the California condor was enlisted in the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Not even ten years later there were only 22 wild condors, and by 1987, the rest of the birds were ambitiously brought into captivity, hoping for the survival of the species. Now, because of helpful spaces like Oregon Zoo’s recovery and breeding program, nearly 400 California condors are in existence, and at least 40 baby condors have hatched since Oregon it began its mission in 2003.
By Stacy Feder