Biologists at Zion National Park in Utah have discovered where a pair of endangered California condors are nesting — and they captured video of the endangered birds with their egg, which the park hopes will be the first successful hatchling there.
Rangers wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday that the nest was found on Minotaur Tower, on a cliff face north of Angels Landing, one of Zion’s more popular attractions. Video the park shared shows the birds swapping places, so each can take a turn sitting on their egg.
“We estimate that the egg was laid in mid-March, which makes the hatch date around early May if all goes well,” rangers said, adding that the mother and father condor are often seen at the park. “They have been together for two years but have not produced a chick together yet.”
There were 290 California condors in the wild as of 2017, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report. But that’s a marked improvement from the early 1980s, when lead poisoning, pollution and other harmful human activities drove the endangered birds to the brink of extinction, with a worldwide population of just 27 in 1987, according to California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.
All the remaining birds were captured and bred in captivity for years, and now there are 463 California condors, with 173 of them in captivity, the 2017 population status report found.
Lead poisoning killed the female Zion condor’s old mate in June 2016 during nesting season, and the chick they had conceived vanished in September of that year, according to park rangers. That earlier coupling also hatched a chick in 2014, but the bird died before fledgling.
“Zion has yet to successfully produce a condor chick,” rangers said.
Facebook video of the endangered birds swapping places on their egg had been viewed more than 40,000 times as of Wednesday afternoon.
California condors are among the largest flying birds in existence, with wingspans of more than nine feet — and their endangered South American relative, the Andean condor, can grow even larger, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
With those colossal wings, the condor can glide in the air for hours on end as it searches for food, covering extreme distances at up to 55 miles an hour without flapping its wings, the state website on the birds said. Condors feed only on dead animals they discover, such as deer and cattle, which makes them susceptible to lead poisoning from ammunition.
Today, California condors are only found in the wild in California, Arizona, Utah and Mexico’s Baja California, according to the federal population count of the birds. But before they faced the threat of extinction, the birds could be found across the continent — including in Florida, New York and Texas, California’s wildlife department said.
“As people settled the West, they often shot, poisoned, captured, and disturbed the condors, collected their eggs, and reduced their food supply of antelope, elk, and other large wild animals,” the state website explained. “Eventually, condors could no longer survive in most places. By the late 1900s the remaining individuals were limited to the mountainous parts of southern California, where they fed on dead cattle, sheep, and deer.”
According to Zion park rangers, condors are “attracted to human activity.”
“If a bird is perched, do not approach it or offer food,” the park recommends. “If a condor is within reach of people, please report the situation — including the bird’s tag number — to park staff.”