October 21, 2010

100 Wild California Condors

Condor in flight (USFWS)
The population of wild free-flying condors in California has just reached 100 birds.  This is the largest number of condors flying free in California in the last half century.  This new benchmark is the result of the continued success of the highly visible recovery effort for the species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners. Other wild populations are located in Arizona and Utah (75 birds), and Baja Mexico (20 birds).

Today the total world population of California condors stands at 381 individuals in both captivity and the wild.
In 1982, a captive breeding program began at the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park to save California condors.  The wild population had dropped to just 22 individuals by 1982.  By 1988, condors began breeding successfully in captivity and, by 1992, captive bred condors were being released back into the wild.  Other breeding facilities joined the recovery effort in the mid-1990s, including the Oregon Zoo and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.

“With 100 wild condors now in California, the California Condor Recovery Program has reached another milestone on the road to recovery for this iconic bird,” said Jesse Grantham, California Condor Program Coordinator.  “This achievement is a testament to the work of our biologists in the field and the efforts of our public and private Recovery Program partners.”

Each fall, captive bred one-year-old California condors are released into the wild from the captive flock at two established release sites, Pinnacles National Monument in Central California and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge on the southwest side of the San Joaquin Valley in Southern California.
California condors roosting, Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS)

In addition to one California condor released in Southern California last week, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists plan to release seven more juveniles over the course of the next two-and-a-half months.  Pinnacles National Monument, another partner in the recovery effort, will be releasing four captive raised condors into the Central California flock over the next several weeks.  In addition to releasing captive reared birds, mature wild condors are now producing their own young.  Since 2004, 16 young condors born and raised in the wild have joined the wild flock in California.

After the young birds are released, they will stay close to the release site, slowly exploring their new surroundings, learning to fly, and becoming integrated into the existing wild flock.  Within five-to-six months, these young birds will follow the wild birds throughout their range.

30-day-old California condor chick and parent (USFWS)
The condor is a large, black vulture with patches of white on the underside of the wings and a largely bald head with skin color ranging from yellowish to a bright red, depending on the bird's mood. It has the largest wingspan of any bird found in North America and is one of the heaviest. The condor is a scavenger and eats large amounts of carrion. It is one of the world's longest-living birds, with a lifespan of up to 50 years.

More information about the California Condor Recovery Program is available by contacting the Hopper Mountain NWR Complex, at (805) 644-5185 or visiting the Refuge Complex website at:  www.fws.gov/hoppermountain.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continued benefit of the American people.  We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service.  For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

All of the photos of California condors in this article are brought to you under a Creative Commons license by the USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service