This photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows a juvenile California condor, identified as No. 428, wearing a GPS transmitter while perched at the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge near Maricopa, Calif. (Angela Woodside/Joseph Brandt/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)
California condors make progress
March 03, 2016
A captive breeding program that at one time included every living California condor has passed a key milestone. It is helping North America's largest bird return to the wild.
For the first time in decades, more condors hatched and fledged in the wild last year than adult wild condors died. This is according to officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Fourteen young condors took flight. That was compared with 12 that died. Officials say it's a small difference. But it's a big step. The last 22 wild condors were captured in the 1980s. They started the breeding program. It releases offspring into the wild.
"That's an indication that the program is succeeding," said Eric Davis. He is the Wildlife Service's coordinator for the California condor program. "We hope that wild birds start producing wild chicks. And that is what is happening more and more."
Wild California condors outnumbered condors in captivity for the first time in 2011. This was a comparison with the start of the breeding program. The wild population has since grown to 268 wild condors. There are 167 in captivity.
Officials also counted 27 wild condor nests last year. Nineteen were in California. Three are in the Arizona-Utah border area. Five are in Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona has a condor nest, officials said. So do Zion National Park in Utah and Pinnacles National Park in central California.
The captive breeding program continues. The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey is the top egg producer. The center is near Boise, Idaho. Six eggs were laid this spring. Nine more are expected.
"So far it's going fantastic," said Marti Jenkins. She is condor propagation manager at the facility.
She said two eggs laid at the facility last year were placed in wild nests in California. The original eggs in those nests were either infertile or damaged. The replacement eggs produced fledglings. Officials counted them in the wild population.
Other facilities breeding California condors are the Oregon Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Davis said about 20 to 40 condors are released into the wild each year. Typically, they are less than 2 years old when released. They can live for about 60 years.
California condors can weigh as much as 25 pounds. They have wingspans up to 10 feet. They were among the first species to receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
Officials say lead poisoning continues to be a threat. Of the 12 wild condor deaths in 2015, two were due to lead poisoning. The condors can be poisoned when they eat bullet fragments in animals killed with lead bullets.
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