PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A critically endangered bird is off to an egg-cellent start this year thanks to the efforts of conservation staff with the Oregon Zoo.

Nine California condor eggs have been laid so far in 2021 at the zoo’s Johnsson Center for Wildlife Conservation in rural Clackamas County, the zoo said Tuesday. It marks the fastest start in the zoo’s 18-year mission to prevent the extinction of the species.

“It’s still early in the season, and we’re not going to count any condors before they’re hatched,” said Dr. Kelly Flaminio, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s condor recovery efforts. “Still, a start like this gives us great hope that we’ll be able to help bolster wild condor numbers — especially after last year’s devastating wildfires.”

Flaminio expects even more eggs to be laid soon and said the first chick should hatch sometime in March.

California condor eggs in an incubator at the Oregon Zoo. (Oregon Zoo)

A condor pair sits on an egg for a couple of weeks before keepers swap it out with a dummy egg. A fertile egg is incubated to keep it as safe as possible. Once hatching begins sometime between 54 to 58 days, the real egg is put back in the nest so the chick can hatch under its parents.

Some condors won’t get a dummy egg. This is to encourage them to lay a second egg for the season — a process known as “double clutching.” Double clutching has helped the Oregon Zoo dramatically increase the number of condor chicks hatched since the program began.

California condors were among the original animals included in the 1973 Endangered Species Act. There were just 22 condors left in the wild in 1982 and the last condors were taken into human care five years later in an attempt to save the species. The world’s California condor population is now estimated at about 500, most of which live free.

The Oregon Zoo’s recovery program is largely to thank for their comeback.

More than 70 chicks have hatched at the Johnsson Center since 2003 and more than 50 birds raised by the Oregon Zoo have been sent to field pens for release into the wild. Several eggs laid by Oregon Zoo condors have also been placed in wild nests to hatch.

The Oregon Zoo Foundation’s $8.5 million Heart of the Oregon Zoo campaign has helped fund recent improvements at the Johnsson Center. To learn more or to make a gift, call 503.505.5494 or email do-more@oregonzoo.org.