It Began With a Pip
There were strange noises in the San Diego Zoo’s bird breeding center on March 30, 1983: tape recordings of vulture sounds and the repeated tapping on a large, white egg. Keepers were assisting at the first zoo hatching of a rare and precious California condor chick. The shell was now cracking open, and everyone held their breath.
Would the hatching chick be healthy and strong?
Hatching a Plan
Keeper Cyndi Kuehler gently lifted the first loose piece of shell, and the chick’s head emerged. To maintain the quiet, no one cheered, but everyone was smiling from ear to ear: Sisquoc was healthy. He was the first condor chick to hatch from four eggs that had been taken from the wild in February, making all the fieldwork worth it—months spent searching for eggs in cliff nests.
It was a first step to save a species that was just 22 birds away from extinction.
Puppet for a Cause
Soon the day-old chick was peeping at a condor hand puppet. This surrogate parent had been created weeks in advance so the chick could be raised as naturally as possible and not imprint on humans. The next day, Sisquoc was placed in an incubator and driven from the Zoo to the Safari Park, where keepers would use the puppet to raise him.
The revolutionary program to save the California condor was launched! We didn’t know back then if condors would breed in a zoo or if they would make good parents. As it turns out, they are exceptional parents! Both the male and the female tend to their fuzzy, uncoordinated offspring. They select tasty morsels for the chick and are always ready to protect their youngster.
Soaring Once More
Sisquoc will forever be our #1 male, fathering 17 chicks to date, with 12 of those released to the wild and 7 still surviving. His future descendants will continue to glide over forests and cliffs, climbing as high as 15,000 feet on warm currents of air in the sunshine.
Now we can say with awe, “I have seen a condor flying free.”
For Native Americans, the condor remains a symbol of great power. For us, this bird is a symbol of saving species from extinction. There are now more than 500 California condors alive today, with over half flying free in California, Arizona, and Baja California, Mexico.
No one knew 30 years ago that this would be one of our greatest conservation success stories—but California condors are still vulnerable in the wild. Our team will work hard for years to come to ensure we have truly saved these birds for future generations.
Why They Need You
California condors are intelligent, social birds that are key in keeping the environment clean and free from disease. Condors tidy up by eating carcasses. But when hunters use lead bullets and leave their kills behind, condors can swallow the bullets and suffer or die from lead poisoning. Condors are also affected by trash in the environment: they mistake pieces of glass, plastic, and metal as food and bring it back to their chicks. This “micro trash” can kill a condor chick.
How You Can Help
Visiting the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park supports our conservation work. Gun enthusiasts using lead-free ammunition help California condors (and other species) by keeping toxins out of the environment. When visiting wild spaces, always take your own trash with you, as well as other trash you may find along the way. If you see a graceful condor gliding on the wind, take time to appreciate the long journey of this conservation success story.