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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

March 4, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Condor recovery, one egg at a time

Malibu, an endangered California condor, has laid her first three eggs of the 2013 season in the captive breeding program at the Oregon Zoo, where recovery of the species is being attempted.

She laid her eggs Valentine’s Day, a little later than usual. If the eggs are found to be fertile (zoo experts can tell by holding them up to a light) the eggs will be put in an incubator with dummy eggs switched for the real deal. Malibu and her mates will share the egg-sitting duty until hatching begins, usually in 54 to 58 days. That’s when zoo staff switch the real eggs back to the nest, so the eggs  hatch under the parents.

Ojai the Condor has kicked off the breeding season at the Oregon Zoo, where work is underway to recover the endangered birds.

The nest will be monitored via closed-circuit television. Malibu’s eggs have been hefty, weighing in between 8 and 11 ounces. Meanwhile, Kun-wak-shun, the first Oregon Zoo-hatched condor to be released into the wild, has paired with a with a wild-fledged female in California’s Pinnacles National Monument this year, and the two are now taking turns sitting on her eggs. Kun-wak-shun was released in 2005 and joined other wild condors in the 26,0000 acre national monument.

The California condor is classified as a critically endangered species with only about 400 birds living today. More than 30 healthy chicks have been hatched at the zoo since the captive rearing program began in 2003.

Condors are the largest land birds in North American, with wingspans up to 10 feet.  The birds have a long history in the Northwest. The journals of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark included a drawing of a condor seen in their travels across Washington. Here is a link to their account of the encounter, in text transcribed from their original journals.

Lewis and Clark were thrilled to encounter a California condor in the Lower Columbia River, recorded here in their journals during the travels through Washington in 1805-6

 

The explorers encountered this bird, drawn by Lewis, on February 17, 1806. Today, the birds remain highly endangered. They were common once along the Columbia River, especially between the Dalles and Cascade Locks. One of the factors killing them even today is lead shot. The birds ingest it when they feed on carrion, and are sicked by accumulated lead poisoning. The problem plagues all scavengers.

The Oregon Zoo’s program is based at the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, in rural Clackamas County. A new California condor habitat will open at the zoo later this year, where visitors can see three male condors in the exhibit. For more on the zoo’s condor recovery program, go online.

Kelli Walker, senior keeper of the condor area said the 38 condors in the program today are doing well. Three pairs have laid a total of three eggs so far, and three more are expected, Walker said.

Walker feeds the condors rabbits, rats, and euthanized bull calves from a nearby dairy. “Which they absolutely love, it’s a great food source. Juveniles released in the wild get the opportunity to feed on a full carcass, which is extremely useful.”

To date the zoo has released 23 condors to the wild. Of those, so far five have been lost, including three because of lead toxicity, Walker said. Another was caught by a cougar in its roost tree. Walker was not sure what killed the last of the five. All the other condors are still alive and well, Walker said, including the condor breeding in the wild at Pinnacles National Monument.

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