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The California Condor: A Conservation Success Story

The California condor has an amazing conservation story, but it's still under threat. Learn more about this uniquely North American bird.

About California Condors

The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is one of the largest flying birds in the world and the largest land bird in North America. Adult condors weigh 18 to 22 pounds (8.5 to 10 kilograms) and have a wingspan of 9.5 feet (2.8 meters).

Like other vultures, California condors have featherless heads and necks and eat carrion (decaying animal carcasses).

California condors flap their wings as little as possible to conserve energy. They can glide for hours at high altitudes and use their keen eyesight to spot food. Adult California condors make their nests on steep cliffs and in large trees.

Where Do California Condors Live?

The California condor's historical range stretched all the way to Florida in the east and western Canada in the north.

There are currently three active release sites in California, one in Arizona and one in Baja California, Mexico. The wild California condor populations are:

  • Pacific Northwest Flock: Yurok Ancestral Territory and Redwood National Park in northern California is the newest and smallest release site, established in 2022 with eight individuals.

  • Southern California Flock: The U.S. Fish & Wildlife service manages the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, home of the Condor Recovery Program. The Southern Californian Flock consists of 89 wild individuals (as of 2022).

  • Central California Flock: The Ventana Wildlife Society and Pinnacles National Park manage a Central California flock of 116 individuals (as of 2022).

  • Arizona Flock: As of 2022, 116 birds were part of the Arizona Flock, based in Vermilion Cliffs, Coconino County, Arizona. These birds can be found in the Grand Canyon; in Kane County, Utah; and as far as New Mexico, southwestern Colorado and Wyoming.

  • Baja California Flock: The Baja Flock is the only California condor subpopulation outside of the U.S. As of 2022, there were 40 birds in Baja California, Mexico.

California Condor Population Status

The California condor is a critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List. Despite their rarity, California condors are somewhat of a conservation success story.

Once abundant in North America, by the 1980s, condor populations were close to extinction. In 1987, the last six remaining wild condors were placed in a captive breeding program.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began reintroducing California condors into the wild in 1992. By August 2003, there were 138 California condors in captivity and 85 reintroduced in California and northern Arizona.

The USFWS leads the California Condor Recovery Program with partners including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Los Angeles Zoo, the National Park Service, the Oregon Zoo, the Peregrine Fund, the San Diego Zoo and the Santa Barbara Zoo.

How Many California Condors Are Left?

The combined total wild population of California condors as of 2022 stands at 347 with an additional 214 captive individuals, for a total world population of 561. You can find details about individual condors at condorspotter.com.

Threats to California Condors

Lead contamination is the greatest threat to the critically endangered California condor due to the use of lead ammunition in the condor's range.

California condors eat decaying carcasses of animals like deer and cattle, and while their specialized digestive systems allow them to safely eliminate toxins like anthrax, botulism and cholera, they can die of lead poisoning, the number-one cause of condor deaths.

Original article: The California Condor: A Conservation Success Story

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