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Rapture over a baby raptor

Observers say the first condor has hatched in Pinnacles National Monument in more than a century.

April 08, 2010|By Steve Chawkins
  • An adult female condor is believed to have hatched an egg, taken from a captive pair. [For the record: An earlier version of this caption credited the photographer as being with the Associated Press.]
An adult female condor is believed to have hatched an egg, taken from a captive… (Gavin Emmons/National…)

When Condors 317 and 318 got together, nobody knew their affair would make history.

But scientists believe that this week, for the first time in more than a century, a California condor was hatched in Pinnacles National Monument, a wilderness that used to be home to the magnificent raptor.


FOR THE RECORD:
California condor: In Thursday's LATExtra section, a credit on a photograph of a condor and egg misspelled the last name of photographer Gavin Emmons as Emmonds. Also, it credited him as being a photographer for the Associated Press. He is with the National Park Service. —

Mother and chick are doing fine, said Kelly Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, a group that collaborates on condor programs with the National Park Service.

Once common in California, condors ran head-on into housing developments and hunters, dying from ingesting lead, antifreeze and other toxic substances. By the 1980s, they had dwindled to near-extinction. Breeding and research programs have boosted their numbers to 347, with 184 in the wild and the rest in captivity.

At Pinnacles, east of the Salinas Valley, the yet-unnamed chick has been more sensed than sighted.

"Based on the behavior of the birds, we suspect a chick has been hatched," Sorenson said. He said the behavior of new condor parents "changes dramatically," with both birds staying around the nest much more -- instead of leaving to forage for days at a time -- and showing signs of excitement.

There is no way Condors 317 and 318 could have realized that their pride and joy was straight out of the Los Angeles Zoo, Sorenson said.

As part of an ongoing project, researchers substitute eggs from zoo condors for those laid in the wild. If a free bird's egg fails, scientists can pore over it for contaminants and other factors that might have doomed it. If it proves viable, it can be hatched in an incubator or by captive birds.

Newly hatched condors typically weigh less than a pound. Within six months, they grow into their spectacular, 9 1/2 -foot wingspan.

"We are thrilled that after being involved with the condor recovery program since 2003, the park has its first nest in over 100 years," Eric Brunnemann, Pinnacles' superintendent, said in a press release.

"And conveniently," he said, "Condors 317 and 318 chose a nest cave that can be easily viewed by the public from the Scout Peak bench on the High Peaks Trail."

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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