Two California condors, whose domestic squabbles in February caused the destruction of the year's only condor egg, have delighted onlooking scientists by producing another egg.
The blessed event, which apparently occurred Wednesday, demonstrates for the first time that the rare birds can lay more than one egg in a season, and may have a significant impact on a 5-year-old, $1 million project to save the California condor from extinction.
Inez Connor, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said project scientists first saw the egg Thursday when the mother rolled it out of a dark corner on the birds' cliffside cave northeast of Ventura, Calif. The scientists, including project directors Noel Snyder of the Fish and Wildlife Service and John Ogden of the National Audubon Society, have set up a blind about a half-mile from the bird's nest.
Although the birds appear not to have resumed their bickering over who could sit on the egg, which resulted in their first offspring being knocked off the cliff edge, Connor sounded an ominous note. "The biologists hope that things will go smoothly this time around, but they are concerned about a pair of ravens that have been following them around," she said.
Some ravens, perhaps the same pair, ate the remains of the ill-fated first egg and have been known to break into other birds' eggs. They have followed the condors from the cave where tragedy struck to the new cave 100 yards away.
Project scientists plan eventually to trap condors nearing adulthood and breed them in captivity. Although scientists know the more numerous Andean condors are capable of producing a second egg in a season if the first is lost, until now no one has been able to prove that the 30 or so surviving California condors can do the same thing.
"This is really important for captive breeding," Connor said, because scientists now know they can stimulate production of at least two eggs a season if they remove the first one and hatch it in an incubator.
Connor raised the possibility that scientists might also be able now to snatch first condor eggs of the season in the wild, knowing that the parents could produce another and that the first one then would be guaranteed safe.
But she acknowledged that for the moment the project is restricted to trapping older condors, because a condor chick died in 1980 while being handled by a project member.