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Utah Condor Population Perched On Edge Of Comeback

birds sit on rock
National Park Service

High in the cliffs of Zion National Park, scientists and park officials have spotted a chick that may signal that there is hope for a species once on the brink of extinction.

“The California Condor is probably the most endangered bird in North America, mainly because the population had dwindled so low in the end of the 1980s that there were only 22 birds left in the wild,” said Fred Armstrong, division chief for resource management and research at Zion National Park. “It was a bird that was on its way to extinction.”

Armstrong said in the mid-1980s the federal government decided to capture the remaining condors and put them into a captive breeding program with the hope of bolstering their population. Since then, a handful of birds have been released in the Vermilion Cliffs area of Arizona each year. Armstrong said the arrival of a chick in Utah is big news.

“This is the first time that any of the condors from the captive breeding program have produced an egg in the wild in Utah.”

The baby bird is thought to be around two and a half months old now. Armstrong said the first time parents’ success tells us about the animal’s slow climb away from extinction.

“This shows that the habitat is still good in Utah, that there are places that are suitable for nesting condors, and it also shows that the population is increasing in size that they are spreading out and finding additional suitable habitat away from the Vermilion cliffs release area,” Armstrong said.

The chick will grow to have a nine and a half foot wingspan. Armstrong said the baby will spend the next few months exercising its wings before it takes a leap of faith from its nest perched 1,000 feet in the air and learns to fly. He adds that the nest location is not being disclosed to help the bird grow in natural conditions.

“We want to be sure that as condors are born and they grow in the wild that they truly act like wild animals,” Armstrong said.

There are currently between 70 and 75 condors near the Utah - Arizona border.