At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, two California condor eggs have marked the beginning of this year’s breeding season. The staff can’t take any chances with the eggs of the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), a dangerously endangered scavenger bird species. Condors’ clutch size is usually only one egg, so zoo staff take careful precautions. When a condor lays an egg, zoo keepers swap the egg out for a fake egg. The adult condor tends to the fake egg while staff tends to the real one. Just before the condor eggs hatch, they are switched back and left to be tended to by the adult condor.
Watch a stealthy egg swap by Oregon Zoo keepers, who are also excited to announce their first condor eggs of the season.
Zoo staff members celebrated the start of the season when the first condor eggs were laid this month.
— TheSceneSD (@TheSceneSD) February 28, 2015
One of the California condor eggs at Safari Park showed a 14 percent weight loss from an earlier check, which oddly enough, is a good sign, according to the Times of San Diego.
“All eggs lose weight as they develop,” senior park keeper Debbie Marlow explained. “It seems counterintuitive because as the chick grows, you would expect there to be a weight gain, but egg shells are porous and moisture is lost through the shell by evaporation during the incubation process.”
— KQEDscience (@KQEDscience) February 20, 2015
Only a few decades ago, only 22 California condors remained on earth. They were excruciatingly close to extinction. Though the condors are not out of the woods yet and remain on the endangered species list as critically endangered, their population, according to experts, now exceeds 400. One hundred eighty-five of the condors alive today hatched at the Safari Park.
— EL IMPARCIAL (@elimparcialcom) February 20, 2015
More than 80 condors have been released into the wild after hatching at the park and they now live in Arizona, Baja California, and California. The California condor is one of two species of condor. The other is the Andean condor.
According to Defenders of Wildlife, condors have bare heads as a hygiene adaptation. Their food source is dead and rotting animal carcasses, called carrion. To get to that meat, they often have to actually put their heads into the bodies of the dead animals. Condors and other scavengers may seem disgusting, but they are critical to the ecosystem because they take care of decomposing bodies that other animals won’t touch.
The Andean condor can be found in the mountains and along the Pacific coast of South America, according to National Geographic. This species of condor is also endangered but is reportedly much stronger in numbers than the California condors.
While avian enthusiasts celebrate the California condor eggs’ arrival, social media users are irate over a viral photo that is being shared. The text that originally appeared at the bottom of the photo below has been removed by this author because the caption included a derogatory cultural remark as well as vulgar language.
Earlier, Inquisitr reported that a bald eagle, another bird species that has made an amazing comeback, was found shot and killed. Penalties for killing a California condor are very stiff and include a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment.
As if the California condors didn’t have enough working against them, the endangered birds are also threatened because they sometimes ingest lead bullet fragments (which became illegal to use in California in 2013) from hunted carrion. When the California condor feasts on lead-impregnated carrion, they become poisoned by lead, according to an article from Yale’s Environment 360.
[Photo via Bureau of Land Management]