A single condor colony is facing an unusual problem this year

Babies aren’t rare. Birds are reliable parents. People are reliable birth doulas.

But it’s rare to have all three involved at once. And even rarer to have all three combined at once in the same nest, all in the same state, while California is experiencing one of its worst droughts on record.

The saga of the eight California condors set to hatch this year began last summer, when nine different female condors are said to have nested in a single nest site in a remote, arid corner of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Their numbers have since dwindled to just two, and as the birds neared the time when they would begin hatching their eggs, nature must have looked sideways at the provincial view offered by nature denizens, particularly a tiny pair of condors that would already be stilted in captivity.

At any given moment, though, an oddity in the condor world can occur: a tiny, newborn offspring stillborn — but that hasn’t stopped researchers from trying to identify the rare human events by locating the women and counting the chicks before the chicks are fully grown.

Last June, a chick was inexplicably stillborn. This month, a female faced a much more complicated scenario. A total of eight eggs were incubated, but the female who gave birth to one of them ended up out of the nest and nearly 40 miles away. Her brood nested within a couple dozen miles of the new nest site, and researchers determined that the young bird was stillborn in the San Francisco Bay by the time she was returned to the nest site.

The female was swiftly found at a nearby water source and returned to the nest site, but she was running high fever and so began her hospitalization. As she neared the time that her eggs would be removed from incubation, researchers informed the young mom that the chick was stillborn and that her first responsibility would be to keep the other four newborn chicks alive through the start of the breeding season in August.

“She is still trying to get the ability to safely hold the four remaining eggs safely in her hand,” said Rick Stromberg, Cal-USCO director of condor recovery at the California condor program, in a news release. “We wanted to make her feel comfortable that she could not reach the eggs and provide the level of care needed.”

Meanwhile, eight of the ten remaining active nests still sat empty. The upcoming mating season, which begins in mid-July, could be promising for the endangered wildlife population. All of the female condors laid eggs in the same location and are young. The winter began with one pair still together, but in recent weeks, one fell to a predator and the other was lost to a drowning, according to state officials.

“This situation is happening more often than we like,” Stromberg said. “But the outcomes are still unfolding and scientists are holding off on making judgments until we know what happened.”

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