A tiny condor chick has been hatched at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, breaking the sport and an April 26 record for the largest bird in North America. This pair of Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) embryos had to hatch before the falcon hatched because young condors did not develop their wings until 28 days after they laid eggs.
The chick weighs about two ounces, but is almost fully developed. Zoo biologists say it should reach a healthy size after the traditional 26- to 33-day period for most birds. Two adults, a male and female, have been housed with the hatchling to see if they can learn the bird’s vocalizations and behaviours, zoo officials said.
San Diego Zoo scientists who have studied the endangered California condor for years believe the condor’s great numbers have been rebounding in part because of the chick’s arrival. Females such as the now-pregnant pair are thought to have relatively high genetic productivity, which enables them to breed more often.
Since his team began analyzing data for the endangered birds in the mid-1980s, zoo biologist Paul Wiegert said at the time, it had been a stunning and perplexingly frustrating time for a researcher of such a critical species.
“I’ve been working on this species for so long, and it’s always something, just something,” Wiegert said in April 1985 when he released a 22-pound California condor chick at a San Diego man-made sanctuary for the birds.
After that, he said, the species — which can grow up to an enormous 6 feet high and weigh 50 or 60 pounds when fully grown — dwindled to a few dozen pairs of birds in the wild. Then, experts estimated there were fewer than 200 pairs. Then, in 1999, the last figure the government released was 525 birds.
“We used to think the world would end if we lost another condor population,” said Wiegert, a veteran of the project. “Now we think maybe we can live with extinction.”
He and other biologists hope that if this tiny chick proves to be the norm, the California condor population will flourish.