In 1982 the wild California Condor population was down to 22. Now the population has rebounded to 100 due to captive breeding and releases. Every fall, young condors born in captivity are released at Pinnacles National Monument in Central California or at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
In addition to the new condors born in captivity, the wild adults are reproducing on their own, though at a slow rate. Since 2004, sixteen young condors have been born and raised in the wild. This slight recovery from the brink of extinction is made more remarkable because breeding pairs lay one egg every other year. Breeding does not begin until the age of six. The birds are monogamous and live for about sixty years. (Source: University of Michigan)
California Condors are the largest flying land birds in North America. Wingspans range up to 9.5 feet. Their very large wings make it possible for them to soar for an hour without any flapping. They also can fly over 100 miles a day looking for food. Carrion is the main part of their diet, which means they are a landscape cleaner, clearing dead and diseased animals. Without human influence, their eating of dead animals poses no problems, but dead animals shot with lead ammunition are sometimes left where condors eat them.
Exposure to human-made toxins poses a grave threat. Also consumption of small bits of trash left in natural areas by people, has led to chick deaths. Adult condors sometimes take trash bits back to their nests and feed it to the chicks.
Oil and gas development are allowed in Los Padres National Forest, the only national forest in California where it is allowed. This area is prime condor habitat, so the critically endangered condors also are additionally impacted by oil and gas pumps encroaching on their habitat.
The California Condor’s ancestor Teratornis incredibilis had a wingspan of seventeen feet.
The total number of California Condors is about 400, with some living in Arizona, Utah and Baja Mexico. In September four young condors were released in Arizona.
Image Credit: Public Domain