SAN DIEGO (AP) _ With the California condor on the brink of extinction in the wild, biologists have begun the process that could see the remaining birds placed in protective custody at zoos, officials said Friday.

An adult male condor captured earlier this week in rugged terrain near Ventura, north of Los Angeles is making itself at home in a flight cage at the San Diego Wild Animal Park known as the ''condorminium,'' park spokesman Tom Hanscom said.

''General observations of his behavior tell us he's adapting to the captive situation quite well,'' Hanscom said.

He said the bird, believed to be between 6 and 7 years old, was brought to the park Wednesday after field observers captured it the day before. It is the first of three condors to be captured under permits issued June 7 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The acquisition of the condor raised to 19 the number of condors in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo and Wild Animal Park, the San Diego Zoo's sister facility near Escondido in northern San Diego County.

Only eight condors are now believed to exist in the wild. State wildlife officials are recommending the capture of all the remaining birds, but the plan has not yet been approved by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the efforts to save the vanishing species.

Last year, biologists estimated the wild condor population at 15 or 16, but six birds have vanished over the past few months and are presumed dead, Hanscom said.

''In an environment in which we've seen the decline of the population in the past year from 16 to eight or nine, we would have to estimate that the birds, following that trend, would become extinct in the wild within the next year,'' Hanscom said.

Although a dozen condors eggs taken from the wild hatched successfully after artifical incubation in zoo laboratories, condors have never laid eggs in captivity, Hanscom said.

''We've been preparing for this stage for a number of years,'' Hanscom said, noting the Andean condor has bred successfully while in captivity.

''We feel good about the fact that we've had breeding success with the California condors' closest living relative and feel optimistic that the same breeding management will give us success with the California bird,'' Hanscom said.

The goal of the California condor program is to rebuild the dwindling condor population through captive breeding and eventually release the offspring into the wild.

A scavenger, the California condor is North America's largest land bird with a wing span at maturity of up to 10 feet. It once roamed through many parts of the United States but now can be found only in the rugged mountain areas around Ventura and Santa Barbara.