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California condor

The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is a member of the vulture family and one of the largest flying birds in the world [1]. 10,000 years ago, its range extended across most of North America, but by the arrival of Europeans, its range was largely restricted to the Pacific Coast from British Colombia south to Baja California. By 1940, it was found only in the coastal mountains of southern California where it nested in the rugged mountains and scavenged in the foothills and grasslands of the San Joaquin Valley. It was listed as an endangered species in 1967 and was given critical habitat in 1976.

The condor's decline has been attributed to DDT, lead poisoning, shooting, collection, Indian ceremonial use, and drowning in uncovered oil sumps [1]. About 600 bird remained in 1890 [1, 2, 3]. It declined to about 60 birds in the late 1930s and early 1940s, to 40 in the early 1960s, to 27 in 1978, and 9 in 1985. All remaining wild birds were taken into captivity in 1987. Since then, a successful captive breeding and reintroduction program increased the 2005 wild population to 121 and the captive population to 158 [2, 3]. It now occurs in three popualtions: in mountains north of the Los Angeles basin, in the Big Sur area of the central California coast, and near the Grand Canyon in Arizona [1].

[1] USFWS. 1996. California Condor Recovery Plan, Third Revision. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Portland, Oregon. 62 pp.
[2] California Department of Fish and Game. 2005. California condor population size and distribution, www.dfg.ca.gov/hcpb/species/t_e_spp/tebird/Condor%20Pop%20Stat.pdf
[3] USFWS. 2005. Condor population history. Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, webpage (www.fws.gov/hoppermountain/cacondor/Pophistory.html) accessed December 28, 2005.

Banner photo © Phillip Colla