Friday, June 6, 2014

Giant vulture-like bird baby could be in Utah cave

Posted By on June 6, 2014, 10:30 PM

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The biggest bird Utah has ever seen is making its home once again in Zion National Park. At least, we hope it is. ---

Two California condors have been spending an awful lot of time in a cavity in the western part of Zion National Park, leading scientists to believe they are raising a condor hatchling there. This is the first hatching of a condor chick in Utah since the reintroduction of the species to the wild in 1996.

The Peregrine Fund (TPF) began its reintroduction program almost 10 years after California condors became extinct in the wild in 1987. Beginning with just six birds, the program now has successfully released 72 birds from captivity into northern Arizona. Twenty-two condors have hatched near the release location, but this is the first hatchling within the Utah border as a result of the program. For four years, TPF has been hopeful that condors would make their way back into Utah, their “historical habitat,” according to wildlife biologist Keith Day, who works for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

No one has seen the baby condor, but Eddie Fletes, project manager of the TPF Condor Project, says there would be no other reason for the adult condors to continue to visit the cavity in Zion National Park. But don’t expect to see the little one anytime soon, visual confirmation could take up to six months, Chris Parish, TPF's condor project supervisor of TPF, has said. That’s when the hatchling should be old enough to fledge out of the cavity far enough for anyone to see it.

Despite being named the California condor, these birds historically are native to the entire western part of North America, including Utah. Condors are part of the vulture family and have a wingspan of up to 9 1/2, feet making it the largest land bird in North America. These giant wings can help them travel 150 miles a day and up to 15,000 feet.

Currently, there are just over 400 California condors living today, both in captivity and in the wild. Scientists with TPF are hopeful that with these birds nesting away from their release site that they soon will be thriving in the wild on their own, the main goal of the California Condor Restoration Program.

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