A bad month for condors

Last month, a California condor hatched on a remote California cliff (SN: 6/30/01, p. 406 Condor chicks hatch in zoo and wild). It was the first to hatch in the wild since a federal condor-restoration program began repopulating the environment with captive-bred members of this endangered species in 1992. Alas, the chick survived only 2 days.

It had emerged from an egg laid in captivity. Biologists had fooled a now-wild female into thinking it was her own after they removed two damaged eggs from the nest she shared with another female and a male. After tending this new egg through hatching–some 10 days without a break–the famished surrogate mom took wing from the cliff for a meal. She appears to have been emboldened by the return of the second female.

However, it appears that the incoming female was disturbed at finding a chick instead of the egg and expelled this foreign object, says Mike Barth of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, near Ventura, Calif. He retrieved the chick’s body, which bore head and neck gashes resembling condor bites.

On the bright side, the first surrogate mother did everything right, notes John Brooks, also at Hopper Mountain. She helped the chick open its shell, kept it warm, and even attempted to feed it. This experience increases her chances of reproducing successfully in the future, he says.

Unfortunately, the chick fiasco was not the condor program’s only setback. A few days later, a year-old condor–one of six juveniles released in May–was found dead beneath a power line. Juveniles don’t have the skill to maneuver around such wires in their environment, Barth says. This was the seventh condor to die by flying into wires.

Another of the juveniles released in May has also vanished. Although it may only have flown beyond the range of its attached radio transmitter, Barth says, it’s not a good sign when they disappear for this length of time.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.