California condor

The California condor is a very large vulture found in the western US. Condors have very an enormous wingspan – about 9.5 feet, and weigh about 20 pounds when fully grown. To get to this size, the condor relies on its ability to scavenge food, consuming large and already dead animals including deer, cattle, and elk. Although the population was once large, extending down the Pacific coast from British Columbia through California, habitat destruction and DDT poisoning resulted in massive population declines. In 1982, only 22 individuals remained, and soon after all wild condors were captured in order to protect them and to use them in a captive breeding program. Although the birds successfully reproduced in captivity, the captive population grew slowly because condors cannot reproduce until they are at least six years old and because an egg is produced about every other year. However, new research led to a new technique in condor captive breeding: removing eggs immediately after they were laid typically resulted the laying of a second egg. The confiscated eggs could then be incubated until hatching and the chicks raised by people using puppet-shaped condor heads to mimic the parents. This resulted in an increased the population growth rate, and lead to a larger and more stable captive population. Since 1992, condors have been reintroduced into the wild in California and Arizona, and the combined total of condors in the wild and in captivity is near 500.

California condor perching on branch in zoo enclosure


Image credit:

Heather Paul, California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), CC Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

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