2014 03 24 Newborn Californian Condor
Lead condor keeper at the Oregon Zoo, Kelli Walker, helps a condor chick out of its shell.

A feather duster might not look like a vulture to us, but for a newly hatched condor chick it's close enough. With only about 400 Californian condors left in the world, North America's largest land bird is also one of it's most threatened. Luckily for these rare birds, staff at Oregon Zoo's Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation will go to just about any lengths to make sure that condors have the best chance of survival ... even if that means painstakingly cutting a chick out of its shell before introducing the newborn to its surrogate feather-duster mom.

Following the successful birth of the year's first condor chick on Tuesday, zookeepers and veterinarians had to perform an emergency assisted hatch for the second of the two new arrivals.

Using a process called 'candling', which involves shining a bright light behind the unhatched egg, it was discovered that the chick was malpositioned and would not be able to chisel its way out of the shell without some intervention from the zoo staff.

"We only help like this when we have to," said Kelli Walker, the zoo's lead condor keeper. "There are so few of these birds in the world that each new chick is incredibly important to the recovery of the species."

After carefully snipping the fragile chick out of its shell, the newborn was placed in an incubator. And just in case the baby condor needed some motherly comfort, a feather duster was added to its artificial nest to serve as surrogate mom for the evening. The next day, the chick was returned to its parents having spent the night under the watchful eyes of zoo staff.

Declared extinct in the wild in 1987, condor numbers have slowly increased with the help of recovery programs like that found at Oregon Zoo. Since the program began in 2003, more than 40 chicks have hatched at the facility with many of these birds eventually ending up in the wild.

Images: Shervin Hess/Oregon Zoo
Source: Oregan Zoo