Management and Conservation

Addressing threats

When working to recover any species, you must understand the threats to survival. Although condors in the wild are known to die from a number of threats lead poisoning caused by spent ammunition, is the primary cause of death in the wild and the biggest hurdle to sustainable wild populations.  Additional threats include ingestion from microtrash, habitat modification (including wind energy development and powerlines), and predation from other species.

Graph showing causes of mortality in California condor populations from 1992-2022. The leading causes of death are lead poisoning, predation and fatal encounters with powerlines.

Lead Contamination

Lead is the number one cause of death for condors. Science has clearly shown that condors are primarily exposed to lead by ingesting lead shot or fragments of lead bullets when feeding on carcasses. Lead rifle bullets fragment into hundreds of tiny pieces when they strike an animal and are left behind in the gutpile.

When the animal remains are fed upon by condors and other scavengers, ingestion of these lead fragments result in lead poisoning. Many condors have died after ingesting lead in this way and many more have been medically treated for lead toxicity.

Hunting, when done with non-lead ammunition, benefits condors and assists in their recovery by providing additional food sources (unrecovered animals and gut piles). Lead ammunition affects the health of wildlife and humans. Condors will remain an endangered species until the lead threat is addressed. Reducing and eventually eliminating the use of lead ammunition is an essential step in condor recovery.

What you can do:

  • Lead ammunition fragments upon impact and, if consumed by a scavenger such as a condor, can result in lead poisoning, which is the number one known cause of death in California condors. Switching to non-lead ammunition for hunting and/or dispatch of livestock helps wild condors and other scavengers and improves the overall ecosystem.
If you are a rancher or farmer:
  • Please use non-lead ammunition if you hunt or put down animals, wild or domestic. The Condor recovery program supports continued hunting and ranching as an important contributor to condor recovery by providing valuable sources for condor food.
If you are a hunter:
  • Use non-lead bullets, such as copper. Support the use of and research into alternatives to lead at home and in the field. - Report illegal shooting to the authorities.
If hunting with lead bullets outside of a non-lead area:
  • Be sure of your shot and take your game with you, even small game and coyotes.
  • Bury or cover the gut pile of field-dressed game to make it less accessible to scavengers.

Learn more about lead contamination:
(Links do not imply endorsement)


"Microtrash" refers to small bits of trash such as broken glass, bottle caps, can tabs, and other smaller, broken down pieces of trash that can be ingested by condors. Condors are curious birds and natural scavengers and are attracted to small bits of trash that stand out from its surroundings. They consistently find and consume micro-trash.

Trash cannot be digested. Additionally, when microtrash is brought to the nest and regurgitated by an adult condor, it is often ingested by condor chicks. The microtrash can get stuck in the gastrointestinal track of young condors and cause impaction, preventing the birds from digesting food, resulting in starvation and death.

Signs on an oil lease in the hills of Ventura County, California promote best practices to help protect endangered California condors. The leases are managed by Carbon Natural Gas Company, whose predecessor, Seneca Resources, Inc., has collaborated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s California Condor Recovery Program for three decades to find creative solutions that protect the condor without jeopardizing either organization’s mission.

What you can do:

  • You can help the condor survive by helping pick up "microtrash" when you are in the condor habitat area."Microtrash" refers to small bits of trash such as broken glass, bottle caps, can tabs, and other smaller, broken-down pieces of trash that can be ingested by condors

Habitat Modification

The modification of condor foraging, roosting and nesting habitat has been identified as a threat to the continued recovery of the species. Condors need adequate nesting sites, roosting sites and foraging habitat with adequate food for their basic survival. Human encroachment through land development and disturbance can adversely affect condor behavior, as well as reduce the number of mammals on the landscape, resulting in less food sources for condors. For example, in addition to wild mammals, condors are known to feed on dead livestock such as cows and sheep. Because of this, condors utilize rangelands as foraging habitat. When rangelands are converted to other uses, such as urban development, forage is no longer available for condors.

Wind energy is another type of habitat modification that has the potential to harm condors. As wild condors expand their range, they are coming closer to the increasing number of wind energy facilities in Southern California. These facilities pose a potentially lethal threat to condors from collisions with wind turbine blades.

Powerlines also pose a threat to condors. A number of condors have been killed as a result of collisions with powerlines and electrocution from perching on powerlines or poles. The Service and other California Condor Recovery Program partners participating in captive condor rearing have developed powerline aversion training on condors before releasing them into the wild. The powerline aversion technique has proven successful in reducing the number of deaths from powerlines.

While condors are given power pole aversion training to keep them from landing on poles and becoming electrocuted, chicks fledged in the wild are not exposed to this training. Young newly released or fledged birds who are inexperienced in flight have a greater potential for collision with power lines.

In the past, condor releases were moved to areas with fewer power lines. In addition to power pole aversion training, relocating power lines underground or encasing them in insulated tree wire, which improves visibility to condors, are tools we are using to minimize the potential for collisions and electrocutions

Other Factors

There are some other factors that pose a lesser threat to condor recovery. These include predation by other animals, poaching, diseases such as West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza, and ingestion of DDE (a breakdown form of the pesticide DDT), found in marine mammals, which contributes to eggshell thinning.

What you can do:

  • Never feed or approach a condor.
  • Don't leave garbage or poisons such as antifreeze in the wild.