Years of intense care, vigilance and dedication focused on the California condor captive breeding program started in the 1980s have reached an astonishing milestone for America’s largest bird. On Monday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that “more California condors hatched and fledged in the wild last year than adult wild condors died” and, for the beleaguered condors, that is truly significant news. More specifically, 14 young California condors fledged and left their nests compared to the 12 that died.
While this may seem like only a token in the condors’ survival record, officials are elated by this achievement since only 22 wild California condors remained alive in the 1980s. All of these remaining condors were captured, and a strict breeding program began that has become successful enough to release a few birds into the wild annually.
Basically, the California condors’ populations are slowly increasing. At long last in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that there were more California condors in the wild than in captivity with numbers substantiating that fact. The wild population of condors numbered 268 and there were 167 in captivity.
Last year, officials located 27 wild condor nests – nineteen were found in California, five were discovered in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and three nests had been established in the Arizona-Utah border area. Three other condor nests had been built by released pairs – one each in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, another in Zions National Park in Utah, and another in Pinnacles National Park in central California.
With the slow-but-steady successes of the captive California condor breeding program now well established, it continues at various sites. The primary location for successful condor egg production is generally attributed to the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey near Boise. Condors produced six eggs and, most likely, another nine eggs can be expected. Two of the Peregrine Fund’s eggs were placed into wild California condor nests where eggs were apparently infertile. Those eggs successfully produced fledglings and will hopefully live to adulthood in the wild.
Other locations were condors are expected to reproduce in captivity are at the Oregon Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. These birds will likely contribute to the overall population increase one egg at a time. It is optimistically hoped that 20 to 40 California condors just under two years old will survive to be released into the wild annually.
The lifespan of the California condor can be as long as 60 years. Condors are very large, and are acknowledged as America’s biggest birds. A mature condor can easily weigh in at 25 pounds and have impressive wingspans of 10 feet. The California condor species became one of the first put under federal protection from the Endangered Species Act, 1973.