The Peregrine Fund, which has been running a successful condor reintroduction program in northern Arizona since 1996, has been particularly challenged of late, with several birds dying of lead poisoning.

Tests indicated six California Condors had toxic levels of lead in their bodies in early May. Three of the birds have died. The other three were successfully treated and released. The latest dead bird found by a hiker in Grand Canyon, contained 18 lead shotgun pellets.

Lead poisoning causes digestive system and organ failure in the large birds. The lead is ingested by the condor while feeding on carrion shot by hunters using lead bullets. In 2005, Arizona Game and Fish began a voluntary non-lead ammunition program for hunters to help address the poisoning issue. Utah has since developed a similar program.

But the California Condor’s future isn’t all bleak – there’s good news as well. There was confirmation April 22 of a new chick hatched in the wild! The new little peep makes the 13th chick hatched in the wild since Condors were first released in AZ in 1996. Two males and a female (all three adults were hatched in captivity) have been tending the new offspring.

Peregrine Fund Director Chris Parrish said that while occasionally three adult condors would tend an offspring, it’s never happened in the northern AZ program. The new hatchling will be dependent on its parents for the first 18 months of its life, and will be expected to fly over the Grand Canyon by six months.

The new northern Arizona chick brings the number of California Condors in the world up to 375. Of those, 194 live in the wild and 74 live in the AZ/Utah population. At one time, there were only 22 left in the world.