Population of rare birds holding steady in the wild
FRISCO — The wild California condor population may not be growing by leaps and bounds, but biologists say they’re encouraged by a recent 600-mile exploratory trip taken by one of the rare birds.
The juvenile make wandered from his home roost near the Grand Canyon and is now spending some time on national forest lands near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The same bird also spent some time on southern Colorado during the trek.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s the first recorded condor sighting in New Mexico in modern history, although scientists have found fossilized condor ones in the state.
Exploratory trips such as this have occurred previously, such as an estimated 400-mile trip from the Grand Canyon to southern Wyoming, or from Baja California to Imperial County, California.
The trips may lead to range expansion if the bird survives and returns to his natal flock. The condor spotted in New Mexico was hatched at the San Diego Wild Animal Park (now called Safari Park) on March 26, 2013, and released at Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona on June 2, 2014.
According to the latest monthly report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are currently about 230 condors flying free; about 120 in Central and Southern California, 70 in Arizona and Utah, and 30 in Baja, Mexico. About 200 are living in captivity, potentially to be released in the future and to maintain a diverse genetic base for the population.
The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically distinct self-sustaining populations, each with 150 birds in the wild and at least 15 breeding pairs, with a third population of condors retained in captivity. As the recovery program works toward this goal, the number of release sites has grown. There are three active release sites in California, one in Arizona and one in Baja, Mexico.
Lead is the number one cause of death for California condors. The birds are mainly 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. Mearly every bird in the wild will require emergency treatment for lead poisioning before reaching breeding age.
Hunting, when done with non-lead ammunition, benefits California 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.
Read more about threats to condors and the recovery program at this USFWS web page.