Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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HOPPER MOUNTAIN NWRC: California Condor Recovery Reaches Milestone; Wild Condor Population Now Exceeds Captive Population
California-Nevada Offices , December 17, 2008
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by Michael Woodbridge, Hopper Mountain NWRC

Seven wild California condor chicks have left their nests in California this year—marking a successful breeding season for this rare bird.  With these seven new chicks and others in Arizona and Baja, the wild population of California condors now outnumbers those in captivity for the first time since the birds started being reintroduced in 1992.


The addition of seven more endangered California condors brings the population in California to more than 80 birds flying free in the wild.  The total number of California condors existing in the world today is more than 320.  This is a remarkable turnaround, after the total population reached a low of merely 22 wild birds in 1982.


“This is an exciting time for the California condor recovery effort,” said Marc Weitzel, project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.  “We’ve come a long way since the Recovery Program began reintroducing captive-bred condors to the wild in 1992, and while we still have a ways to go, we are making tremendous progress—with more condors in the wild than there have been in approximately 50 years.”


A captive breeding program was started in 1983, and in 1987 all California condors were brought in to captivity to start an urgent breeding program at the Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Wildlife Park.  After all the wild birds were captured in 1987, the California Condor Recovery Program worked to steadily grow the number of condors in captivity and in the wild.  The recovery plan for California condors calls for three distinct populations, each with at least 150 birds and 15 breeding pairs.


As the Recovery Program works towards this goal, it has reached an important milestone in the process.  There are now 167 condors flying free in the wild, as opposed to 160 currently in captivity as part of the breeding program. 


The California condor is the largest bird in North America, weighing as much as twenty-five pounds. During the Pleistocene era, the condor could be found across the United States. California condors do not kill their food; they are scavengers, eating carcasses they find during long soaring flights using their more than nine-foot wingspan.  The California condor was placed on the federal Endangered Species List in 1968.  Threats to the condor’s survival include lead poisoning from spent ammunition, collisions with power lines, and accidental and intentional shooting, among others.



Contact Info: Michael Woodbridge, 916-978-4445, michael_woodbridge@fws.gov
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