With all of the fine entertainment now on TV, you'd think that watching a baby condor go about its business on a remote mountain perch near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in California wouldn't be that captivating. But somehow it is. Thanks to a livestream video from the Cornell Lab Bird Cams Project, you can check up on the little bird with big feet whenever you want and, if you're lucky, you can even see it interact with its parents.
California condors – the largest bird in North America – are a critically endangered species, but they are slowly rebounding. There were only 22 of them left in the wild in 1987, but there are now 276 with another 200 thriving in captive breeding programs. So getting a chance to watch the birds in the wild is indeed a rare opportunity.
This is the third year a condor nesting site has been livestreamed by Cornell along with cooperation from the Santa Barbara Zoo and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but this is the first time this particular nesting pair and its offspring has been featured. The chick's mother is eight years old and was hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise Idaho in 2009. Its father is 18 and hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1999.
"Webcam viewers will see the rich social interactions of these intelligent birds, such as the two adults sharing parental duties, and their interactions with each other and the chick," said Dr. Estelle Sandhaus, director of conservation and research at the Santa Barbara Zoo. "Condor chicks actually engage in 'play,' by pouncing on and grabbing feathers and sticks, for instance. It's a thrill to watch the chick grow, learn, and play under the watchful eyes of its dedicated parents."
While Condor numbers are slowly rebounding, the birds still face challenges, chiefly lead poisoning from feeding on carcasses peppered with lead bullets. The animals also face trouble from what's known as micro trash – small bits of metal the parents collect and mistakenly feed to their chicks. The cause for this is unclear, but it is theorized that the adult birds mistake the metal for bits of bone and shell which would indeed be a source of nutritious calcium for the chicks.
"Nest cameras like this one were first used as a management tool to help biologists monitor the nests for problems, like lead poisoning and micro-trash ingestion, so that we could intervene on behalf of the chicks if needed," said Brandt. "After watching the footage we realized that it was also an incredible opportunity to show the world just how caring and attentive condor parents can be, not to mention the comical behaviors of the chicks."
Last year's livestream garnered nearly one million views and 19 million minutes of watch time.
We've had the nest cam open in a dedicated tab on our computers here at the New Atlas offices for a day now and we've definitely enjoyed checking in on the chick from time to time. For the most part the footage has consisted of the baby bird grooming itself, but there was that one time when a yellow hummingbird appeared on the scene and the interaction between the creatures definitely took on a bit of a Disney quality.
The chick just celebrated its 50-day-old birthday yesterday. Condor chicks typically fledge (develop the proper feathers and strength for flight) at around 150 days, so there should still be plenty of time to enjoy the bird in its perch. They can live to be up to 60 years of age, so hopefully this new bird's YouTube debut will be the start of a long life.
You can watch the chick below, or on the Cornell Lab Bird Cam Project's YouTube page.