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Biologists surprised by California condors' newborn chick

"It’s just a sign of how well the flock is doing," wildlife biologist Joe Burnett said.

By
Brooks Hays
California condors have a lifespan of up to 60 years. Photo by DickDaniels/CC
California condors have a lifespan of up to 60 years. Photo by DickDaniels/CC

SALINAS, Calif., Jan. 12 (UPI) -- In 1987, the California condor seemed to be down and out. The only specimens left were those in captivity -- the embattled species gone from the wild. Just a quarter-century later, biologists continue to be amazed by the bird's resurgence.

Last week, wildlife officials in California were happily surprised by the presence of an unexpected chick. The newborn condor was birthed by two wild condors living in a sanctuary in the Santa Lucia Mountains.

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It's only the third successful condor pairing since the species' rehabilitation and reintroduction to the wild in 1997 -- the product of an ambitious conservation effort on the part of local, state and federal wildlife agencies.

California condors, the largest land bird species in the country, have been slowly re-established in California, Arizona and Utah. The progress has been impressive, but often slow-going.

The latest success came out of left field.

"As biologists, we strive to know everything about the flock, but when we get a curve ball like this, it's a real pleasant surprise," senior wildlife biologist Joe Burnett, director of the Big Sur condor project with the Ventana Wildlife Society, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

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"It's just a sign of how well the flock is doing -- that they are flying out on their own, making nests and breeding on their own," Burnett added.

The chick is 9 months old, suggesting the entirety of the mating, egg-incubation and child-rearing processes were kept hidden from the biologists who check on the wild condors regularly -- obsessively, even. Officials suspect the young bird is the offspring of condors 209 and 231, who frequent a hard-to-read portion of the sanctuary.

"This would be the third chick for No. 209 ('Shadow'), the suspected father, and is perhaps the best Christmas present we could ask for," said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of Ventana Wildlife Society. "This is truly exciting to witness as it offers another example of condors surviving on their own."

California now boasts 425 of the condors -- 116 reside in the wild. Though still vulnerable, the population is sure to remain stable for some time. The California condor is one of the longest-living bird species, with a lifespan of up to 60 years.

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