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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
CONDOR RECOVERY:  Record Fledging, New Protections and Partners Mark Successful 2007 for California Condor Recovery
Region 8, February 1, 2008
A young California condor at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: USFWS)
A young California condor at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a

Scott Flaherty, Region 8 External Affairs

A record fledging of California condor chicks and the implementation of voluntary and regulatory measures aimed at reducing the rare bird’s exposure to toxic lead were among several success stories for the California condor recovery program in 2007.


The fledging of eight California condor chicks in the wild—six in California and two in Arizona--, was the greatest number in probably over 50 years, according to Jesse Grantham, condor recovery coordinator for  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  Four of the six fledgings in California, occurred at the refuge, which is located in Ventura County in southern California.  The other two chicks fledged in the Big Sur area of central California, where one chick fledged successfully from a cavity in a giant coast redwood.


 “After disappointing results in recent years, we were focused on achieving 100 percent nesting success in 2007 and that’s what we got,” said Grantham. “2007 turned out to be a great year for California condor recovery.”


Condors in California received added protections in 2007 as the result of new science that showed condors in the wild were dying from lead poisoning after ingesting fragments from lead bullets left in the carrion of dead game animals.   In February, the operator of the state’s largest private hunting program, Tejon Ranch Company, announced its ban on lead ammunition used by hunters on its 270,000 Tejon Ranch in southern California.  The policy took effect Jan. 1, and requires hunters to use lead-free ammunition on the ranch.  In July, hunting program managers at two military bases in California -- Camp Roberts in San Luis Obispo County, and Fort Hunter Liggett in southern Monterrey County--adopted similar lead-free ammunition policies.  In October, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill banning lead bullets for hunting in eight California counties. Effective July 1, 2008,  the law requires hunters to use lead-free ammunition while hunting in the affected counties. 


In June the recovery program added a new, international partner to recovery effort: the Chapultapec Zoo in Mexico City.  Marc Weitzel, project leader at the Hopper Mountain NWRC, and a delegation from the San Diego Wild Animal Park, presented the zoo with two California condors June 4. The Zoo joined the San Diego Zoo and Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, as one of only three locations in the world where the public can view a California condor.


“The condors have received a tremendous response from the Zoo and the people of Mexico City since the exhibit opened in June 2007,” Weitzel said. “We’ve learned that  hundreds of thousands of visitors have viewed the condors. Almost 300,000 people have received some level of more formal condor related education via the Zoo’s visitor center and their environmental education program.


The California condor is North America’s largest bird and was listed as an endangered species in 1967.  From a low of 22 birds worldwide in 1987, the population of condors has grown to nearly 300 birds, primarily the result of captive breeding programs. As of early January, 146 condors were known to be flying in the wild in California (79), Arizona (59) and the Baja Peninsula in Mexico (8).  Twenty of those free-flying condors were released into the wild from the captive breeding program. Approximately 154 birds are in captivity, primarily as part of captive breeding programs at. Los Angeles Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Oregon Zoo and the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey.


“Condors benefited from several significant events last year that would not have been possible without the hard work of biologists on our Condor Recovery Program and the voluntary efforts of private landowners, hunters and conservationists,” said Steve Thompson, regional director of the Service’s California and Nevada Region.


The Service-led Condor Recovery Program is a multi-agency partnership working to conserve the California condor. Other partners include the Los Padres National Forest, California Department of Fish and Game, and several private partners.  Captive breeding programs are operated at San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo, Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey, and the Oregon Zoo. Release programs in California are managed by the Ventana Wildlife Society in Big Sur, the National Park Service at Pinnacles National Monument.  In Arizona, the release program is managed by The Peregrine Fund, and the Baja release site by the Zoological Society of San Diego


The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically separate populations, one in California and the other in Arizona, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov