The hatching season’s first California condor chick was born two weeks ago at the San Diego Zoo, according to an announcement made yesterday. The baby bird named Wesa appears to be healthy and eats about 15 mice per day. With the help of a specially designed hand puppet, senior condor keeper Ron Webb has been taking care of the endangered baby bird.
"The puppet is like a fancy glove," Webb said in the statement. "It covers our hands so the chick does not get any beneficial experiences from people. We do not want it imprinting on people or getting used to us when it goes out into the wild. We want it to be a nice, wild animal, not relying on people for food."
The California condor is the largest land bird in North America with a wing span of just under 10 feet. This magnificent bird can soar as high as 15,000 feet and travel up to 150 miles a day. Considered a “new world vulture”, it eats mostly carrion such as the remains of large animals like deer, cattle and sheep, but it has also been known to feast on smaller animal carcasses like rabbits and rodents.
The California condor is critically endangered. Its population dramatically declined in the 20th century until only about 22 remain. There were several contributing factors to the condor’s decline such as poaching, DDT and lead poisoning, habitat loss and low clutch size.
In 1987, the last remaining wild birds were taken into captivity in an effort to save it from extinction. Between 1988 and 1991, no California condors remained in the wild. Due to intense breeding programs and strong federal protection, facilities such as the San Diego Zoo began reintroducing the condor back into its natural habitat. Today there are an estimated 400 wild California condors in existence.
Like the condor chicks hatched before him, Wesa will eventually be released into the wild as part of the zoo’s conservation efforts.
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