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, decimated by habitat loss and lead poisoning.

Condors over Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona. (Photo courtesy of the Peregrine Fund)

But 25 years into a federal reintroduction 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.

Listen to the story:

Natural scavengers condors eat gut piles of animals killed by hunters. They also ingest the lead-based shot left in the carcass.

Parish, a hunter, started an education program with Arizona Game & Fish to persuade hunters to switch to lead-free ammo voluntarily. Rates of participation, according to Parish, have been higher than 80 percent.

Condors have wingspans of up to 11 feet, the most of any bird. (Photo courtesy of the Peregrine Fund)


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.

Additional photos:

The first taste of freedom.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Parish)

Be free! A young condor released into the wild.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Parish)

A hatchling in captivity will eventually grow to up to 25 pounds.
(Photo courtesy of Chris Parish)

A pair of California condors in the wild. (Photo courtesy of Chris Parish)

Condors are released at Vermillion Cliffs, Ariz., several times a year. The public gets to watch at least one. (Photo courtesy of the Peregrine Fund)

More Resources:

Grand Canyon National Park website on Condor reintroduction program

Arizona Game & Fish website on the California condor recovery project

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