Written by By Julia Whitefield-Dowling, for CNN
As we head towards Earth Day, where both bird and environmentalists are battling for the planet’s best interests, many might welcome news that a California condor has delivered its first chick in “virgin birth.”
As the second largest bird in the world, California condors are under threat from a variety of human activities, including protection plans that keep the population numbers, and their natural habitat, low.
While adult condors are known to give birth, extremely rare are the birds which are unable to mate in order to conserve their eggs’ vigor.
Hundreds of California condors have fledged from captive breeding programs in recent years, but scientists still have much to learn about the birds.
A captive juvenile California condor. Credit: Pamela Quigley-Flint for CNN
“We are in the early days of California condor recovery in the wild, but we are learning about how they mate and nest,” says biologist Pamela Quigley-Flint, who works with the California condor recovery program.
In order to track the birds, the group have also developed eggs, nest boxes and pyramids of sticks to draw chicks in and keep them safe when they have to leave their parent.
According to the California condor recovery program, the first successful birth in California was recorded on January 23, 1960, when a chick hatched in an egg pod in a condor nursery.
“It’s a first that we’re very excited about because we believe it’s probably the first time in the history of this species that this has happened,” says Quigley-Flint.
Species of interest
Southern Cooper’s condors and California condors are a pair of birds with a similar size, color, and behavior to one another, but live on entirely different continents.
While condors are found in the US west coast, southern Cooper’s birds are mainly found in California’s San Joaquin Valley and southern Mexico.
Condors in the Calaveras Mountains in northern California. Credit: California Condor Recovery Team
Adult male condors have been observed approaching their rivals, distracting their chicks from their nests, which have been forced to run away.
However, the successful reintroduction and re-population of condors has been slow-going, in large part due to obstacles that have had to be overcome before they can hatch.
“We’ve had to deal with significant challenges and impediments,” says Quigley-Flint.
In January 2016, the state of California’s Fish and Wildlife Commission ordered Fish and Wildlife to speed up the condor recovery program to protect the bird’s threatened status, describing the condor as a “species of interest.”
“We had to go through a complicated process and we knew it would be very difficult. The need was clear, but the entire conservation process to reach this goal was only a couple of years in the making,” says Quigley-Flint.