Vermillion Cliffs, Ariz. – California condors once soared over large parts of western North America. By the 1980s, there were just 22 birds left in the wild, their decimated by habitat loss and lead poisoning.
But 25 years into a federal re-introduction program, condor populations are again surging.
More than 400 birds live in the coastal mountains of south-central California and at Arizona’s Vermillion Cliffs.
Chris Parish, Condor Project Director for the Peregrine Fund, raises the birds in captivity, supervises their release into the wild, and monitors them as they mature and reproduce.
Parish said he’s generally happy with the condor recovery effort.
But lead poisoning still lurks as the bird’s biggest threat. Multiple re-introduced condors have died of lead poisoning since recovery efforts began.
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Natural scavengers, condors eat gut piles of animals killed by hunters. They also ingest the lead-based shot left in the carcass.
Parish, himself a hunter, started an education program with Arizona Game & Fish to persuade sportsmen to voluntarily switch to lead-free ammo. Rates of participation, according to Parish, have been higher than 80 percent.
California condor facts:
Wingspan: Up to 11 feet
Weight: 20-25 pounds
Life Span: 60-80 years
Reproduction: One egg every two years in the wild.
Flying Ability: 150+ miles in a day
Historic range: Baja California to British Columbia.
Re-introduced population range: northern Arizona, central and southern California.
Diet: Carcasses of large animals such as deer, cattle and sea mammals.