Condors that have finished their medicial work ups wait on top of the flight pen for their mates and associates to be released. Photo Credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

California Condor Population Information

Since 1992, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began reintroducing captive-bred condors to the wild, the USFWS, and its public and private partners have grown the population to more than 440 birds.

Currently, there are about 160 California condors flying free in Central and Southern California, nearly 80 in Arizona and Utah, and more than 30 in Baja, Mexico. By 2008, the Recovery Program reached an important milestone: for the first time since the program began, more California condors were flying free in the wild than in captivity.

Beginning in 2003, the California Condor Recovery Program has been reporting condor population information. This information provides detailed accounts of how many California condors are located in the wild and captivity, as well as their geographic location, among other information.

California Condor Numbering System

We often receive questions regarding the names (or ID's) of California condors. "What's that one's name?" "What language is it and what does it mean?" "Why did the one I saw have a number?"

In the California Condor Recovery Program, each condor is assigned a name or identification number - the "studbook number." Biologists need a way to identify individual birds to keep track of medical histories and behavioral patterns.

Four condors await their medical evaluation in the flight pen at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Jon Myatt/USFWS

Those familiar with condors know that some condors have a name like AC-7 or AC-9. These were some of the field identifications used in the 1980's to study and monitor individual condors in the early years of the recovery program.

The AC in those names stands for Adult Condor and the number indicates the order in which each bird received identification. For example, AC-7 means "Adult Condor #7", the seventh condor to be given wing tags and a radio transmitter. The only exception to this loose rule is Tama-Yawut. Tama was a wild condor in the 1980's that was known by a name instead of an AC designation.

Condors, with their ID tages visible, feeding on a calf carcass at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Source: USFWS

But regardless of whether a condor is known by a name or a number at any particular breeding facility or release site, all condors are given a studbook number.

This identification number supercedes any local names or IDs by which the bird may be known and it allows biologists and researchers to ensure accurate historical recordkeeping regarding individual birds.

The studbook keeper assigns the studbook number when he or she first receives all of the current year's breeding information on all newly hatched birds from all of the breeding facilities and release sites.

The numbers are issued chronologically; so the larger number indicates a younger bird. When you see a condor flying in the wild, look for the number printed on its wing tags.

The number will either be the last one or two digits of its studbook number. For example, a wing tag that reads "19" will indicate that the bird is either Condor #19, #119, #219, #319, or #419. The color of the tag determines whether the number is in the 200, 300 or 400 series, and so on.