California Condors hit a milestone
by Nate Swick
Long the spokesbird for endangered species conservation in North America, the California Condor has recently crossed an impressive milestone, passing the 400 individual mark and currently sitting at an impressive 405.
A full 226 of the birds are flying wild in parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Baja California, with a further 179 individuals in captive breeding programs across several western states. This may not seem like a lot, but compare this current population status with that of 30 years ago, when a bare 23 birds were present in the wild in 1982, leading to the unprecedented action of capturing every wild flying bird and bringing the entire species into a sophisticated captive breeding program in Los Angeles and San Diego in the hopes that the birds Lewis and Clark called the "beautiful buzzards of the Columbia" would be able to be hacked back into their historic range at some indeterminate point in the future.
Thankfully, the birds responded and the California Condor has become something of a success story with released birds even breeding in parts of their historic range for the first time in a century. What is more, if the population reaches 450 the species will be a candidate for delisting under the US Endangered Species Act, which to my mind sounds a bit premature, but no doubt is an accomplishment barely dreamt of those 30 years ago.
The birds are not out of the woods yet, however, from a recent article at Oregon Live:
Along the California coast near Big Sur, a condor release site, biologists have noticed serious eggshell thinning. They believe it results from condors feeding on sea lion carcasses containing DDE, a residual from the now banned insecticide DDT. DDE remains in the water column off California, where lots of the insecticide was dumped.
As they re-draw the recovery plan, [USFWS Condor coordinator John] McCamman says, scientists and other condor caretakers will look at those issues and more -- everything from habitat loss to the potential effects of climate change on condors' ability to survive. They'll talk about whether to open a fifth breeding center at Mexico City's Chapultepec Zoo, or develop another release site, perhaps in the Siskiyou Range, near the California-Oregon border.
One hopes that this success is only the beginning for the condors, and that we can all look forward to actually counting them on our life lists soon.