Three California condors found in northern Arizona and southern Utah have died of lead poisoning and three others had toxic levels of lead in their bodies, according to a conservation group.
The Peregrine Fund, which is dedicated to preserving birds of prey in the wild, said Tuesday, May 31, that biologists recently began capturing and testing nearly 30 of the endangered birds in the region after a hiker reported seeing a dead condor in the Grand Canyon.
One Condor Had 18 Shotgun Pellets In Its Digestive System
X-rays showed one bird had 18 shotgun pellets in its digestive system, another had six pellets and a third contained the remains of a spent bullet, suggesting the condors died after eating carcasses of animals that had been shot.
Of the birds captured, two died in addition to the bird found by the hiker. The other three were treated and released back into the wild.
Just 388 Condors In The West
Of the birds captured, two died in addition to the bird found by the hiker, reducing the overall condor population in the West from 391 to 388, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees condor recovery. The other three birds were treated and released back into the wild.
Chris Parish, head of the Peregrine Fund’s condor recovery program in Arizona, said lead exposure typically occur during the deer hunting season from October to early December. He said it was possible that the recent exposures were the result of illegal hunting activity or somebody putting down their animal by shooting them with lead bullets.
Lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for condors, the largest flying land bird in North America weighing up to 26 pounds with a wingspan of about 9 feet. Condors are bred in captivity and found in the wilds of California, the Arizona-Utah border, and Baja California. They reach maturity at about 6 years and produce only one egg every other year.
Hunters: Use Non-Lead Ammunition
Officials are urging hunters to use non-lead ammunition and to carefully dispose of animal carcasses that condors could feast upon.
After the careful nurturing of the California condor recovery program, what a tragedy to have these amazing birds die in this senseless fashion.
Photo Credit: little blue hen via Creative Commons