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Let’s start Sunday with a cool story!

Two years after Zion National Park saw its first wild-hatched condor take to the skies, another has accomplished the same feat.

California Condor nestling #1111 in late August took off from its nest cave on the cliff just north of Angels Landing. Condor #1111 is the sibling of condor #1000 (aka 1K) who was the first wild-hatched nestling to fledge in Zion National Park back in 2019.

Biologists estimate the egg was laid mid-February and hatched mid-April. Zion National Park is a member of The Southwest Condor Working Group that includes state wildlife agencies of Utah and Arizona, federal partners including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Forest Service, and private partners including The Peregrine Fund that manages releases and day-to-day monitoring for the population.

The mother, condor 409 (tag 9) hatched in 2006 at the San Diego Zoo and was released at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument release site in 2008. The father, condor 523 (tag J3) hatched in 2009 at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, and was released at the Vermilion Cliffs release site in Arizona in 2011. The breeding pair have been together for four years since 409’s first mate (condor 337) died from lead poisoning in 2016.

This is condor 409’s fourth confirmed nestling. Park rangers and volunteers are keeping a close eye on nestling #1111, who is estimated to be 4.5 months old. Although most condors take their first flight when they are about 6 months old, young condor #1111 is still within the observed age range for fledging. Condor #1111 will continue to be dependent on its parents for the next 12-14 months. Because the adults spend so much time caring for their young, wild condor pairs normally produce one egg every other year, according to park staff.

In 1982, only 22 California condors were left in the world. Due to the steep decline of the population, the remaining wild condors were captured and held in captivity for safekeeping, which gave rise to a tremendously successful captive breeding program that has allowed for reintroduction of the endangered birds back to the wild, beginning first in 1992 in California and followed in 1996 in Arizona.

The population now numbers more than 500, with more than half of those flying free in the wild. One-hundred-and-three condors currently fly free in the Arizona/Utah population. Each bird, whether produced in the wild, or in captivity, is given a studbook number to differentiate it from others, and this most recent nestling received studbook number 1111. 

I have never seen a California condor.

However, when I was in Bolivia, we were staying at a guesthouse on the eastern edge of the Andes and the guide offered to take us on a hike to a waterfall. We thought, sure OK, why not. We didn’t have much money left and there wasn’t an ATM in the town (this was 2008) and he wasn’t charging us too much. So he takes us up there. It’s steep. Like just up a mountain. We are on an overlook over this waterfall. We have lunch. We are hanging out. I’m getting a little bit impatient. It’s a nice waterfall and all but I wasn’t clear why we were spending an hour there. He tells us to be patient. Then, the Andean condors come. Turns out that every day, Andean condors use this waterfall for a bath, flying through it and around it. This was the basically the most awesome thing ever. Because we were on a cliff, they were riding the wind currents right above our heads. The Andean condor is the second largest bird in the world. So yeah, that was a big freaking bird of prey checking us out! What a day.

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