And they're off! Zoo-reared condors take flight in Arizona

October 22, 2021 - 11:08am

Three condors hatched at zoo’s offsite facility last year are released at Vermilion Cliffs

Three California condors hatched and raised at the Oregon Zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation went soaring through the open skies of Arizona last month, marking another important step in the effort to save this critically endangered species from extinction.

Condors No. 1012, 1017 and 1025 — who hatched at the Jonsson Center in spring 2020 — lifted off at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, joining a growing population of free-flying condors living among the area’s sandstone escarpments and colorful rock formations.

A new flock of condor chicks is now waiting in the wings. Earlier this week, the final chick living at the Jonsson Center fledged, meaning all of the birds who hatched there last spring now have feathers and wing muscles sufficiently developed for flight. The young condors are still under the care of their parents, but it won’t be long until they’re the next group flying free. 

“The condors released last month are doing great,” said Tim Hauck, program manager for The Peregrine Fund. “They’re roosting in good spots and getting plenty to eat.”

All of the wild releases at Vermilion are “soft releases,” meaning the birds exit the flight pens at their own discretion. When a condor enters the outer holding area of its pen, the inner door closes and triggers the outer door to open, allowing the bird to fly free.

“It’s tremendously gratifying to see them take off,” said Kelli Walker, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s condor recovery efforts. “Over the years, condors raised by the Oregon Zoo have been very successful and have paired up with other wild condors to raise new wild-hatched chicks.”

The California condor was one of the original animals included on the 1973 Endangered Species Act and is classified as critically endangered. In 1982, only 22 individuals remained in the wild and by 1987, the last condors were brought into human care in an attempt to save the species from extinction. Thanks to recovery programs like the Oregon Zoo’s, the world’s California condor population now totals around 500 birds, most of which are flying free.

The Oregon Zoo’s condor recovery efforts take place at the Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, located in rural Clackamas County on Metro-owned open land. The remoteness of the facility minimizes the exposure of young condors to people, increasing the chances for captive-hatched birds to survive and breed in the wild.

Visible security cameras from Teledyne FLIR are providing improved views into the nesting areas and 24/7 observation of the condors, helping zoo staff better monitor the health of chicks and parents. Additional upgrades and new equipment at the center have been made possible through continued support from the Avangrid Foundation and donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation, which support the zoo’s efforts in advancing animal welfare, conservation and education. To learn more or to make a gift, call 503-220-2493 or email foundation@oregonzoo.org.

More than 70 chicks have hatched at the Jonsson Center since 2003, and more than 50 Oregon Zoo-reared birds have gone out to field pens for release. Several eggs laid by Oregon Zoo condors have been placed in wild nests to hatch.

California condor breeding programs are also operated at San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Idaho. For more information, visit oregonzoo.org/condors.

As part of the Metro family, the Oregon Zoo helps make greater Portland a great place to call home. Committed to conservation, the zoo is also working to save endangered northwestern pond turtles, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, and northern leopard frogs. To learn more, visit oregonzoo.org/recovery.

The zoo is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekends. To plan your trip, go tooregonzoo.org/visit. For more information on getting to the zoo, visit Explore Washington Park.