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Saving Species, One at a Time #2 California Condor


With a wingspan of 2.5 to 3 meters, the California Condor is the largest flying bird to soar the skies of North America. These iconic birds weigh between 7 to 11 kgs (16-25 pounds) and can live up to 60 years. The distinctive bald pink head and neck make them easily identifiable. This physical characteristic is not only for good looks, it also prevents the rotting food from sticking to its head while they are feeding on carcasses.

These animals have the lowest reproductive rate of any bird species, as they lay just one egg/year.

Picture: Unknown source


The California Condor is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

In 1982, the population of California Condors was down to only 22 individuals, teetering on the edge of extinction. This drastic population decline was mainly associated with habitat destruction, hunting and lead poisoning caused by accidental ingestion of lead bullets from carcasses. Before the prohibition of the pesticide DDT, the reproduction success of the California Condor population in Central Pacific California coast was also compromised due to the thickness reduction of eggshells, a common consequence of the contamination by this compound.

In 1987, it was clear that human intervention was needed in order to keep this species from going extinct, so it was agreed that all 14 surviving birds were to be taken into captivity. As part of the California Condor Recovery Program captive breeding and reintroduction was initiated, managed by the Peregrine Fund, San Diego Zoo Global, Oregon Zoo and the Los Angeles Zoo, with cooperation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, the National Audubon Society

In the early 1990’s , the first California condor was released into Baja California, Mexico, with further animals being released in the wild in California. Currently, these animals are released back into the wild at 5 sites in Arizona and California.

According to San Diego Zoo, “more than 50 California condors now join the population every year, and 12 to 15 chicks now hatch in the wild annually.”. It was reported in 2014 that the total population of wild California condors consisted of 219 individuals., whereas the captive population was of 206 condors.

A female condor takes to the sky north of Fillmore.

( Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Even though lead poising is still the main hazard to the wild population, great progress was made in 2007 with the signing of the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act, which requires the use of non-lead ammunition in the California Condor geographic areas.

It has been reported that aversion training of the captive animals to avoid powerlines and humans, contributed for the high overall survival of released birds.

Oregon condor breeding facility

How does the Oregon Zoo breeding facility work?

  • "Eggs are laid from January through March. Once an egg is laid, it is removed from the nest to an incubator. When the egg begins to hatch it is placed back with the parents.

  • Chicks hatch 54 to 57 days later. By June, all chicks have usually hatched. Following an annual tradition, tribal partners have the option to name the condor chicks.

  • When they are about eight months old, hatchlings are moved from breeding pens to a fledgling flight area. There they begin their flight fitness preparations and learn to socialize with adult "mentor" condors.

  • Young condors receive aversion training that teaches them not to land on power poles. A mock power pole in their enclosure is rigged to provide a mild electric shock if they land on it.

  • Oregon-raised condors then move to field pens at one of the five release sites in Mexico's Baja California peninsula, central and southern California and northern Arizona. After several months in the field pens they are released into the wild.

Do you want to know more ?

Make sure you visit: (CORNELL LAB)

Make sure you watch:

Oregon Zoo on Captive Breeding California Condors:

How we brought the condor back from the brink: TEDxDeExtinction

Oregon Zoo: California condor:

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