California condor population hits 100
The number of wild, free-flying condors in California has reached 100, the most in half a century.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced the landmark Wednesday, crediting a captive breeding program started in Southern California in 1982, when there were only 22 wild condors in the state.
Young condors born in captivity are released into the wild every fall at Pinnacles National Monument in Central California and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge on the southwest side of the San Joaquin Valley. The flock will get another bump over the next few months with the release of 11 juveniles.
The big birds are also reproducing on their own in the wild, adding 16 young to the California population since 2004.
The carrion-eating birds, known for their huge wingspan (9.5 feet) and memorable visage, soared from Mexico to Canada at the time of settlement. Their numbers plummeted with loss of habitat and the decline of the large mammal populations they fed on. More recently, lead poisoning from ammunition and the ingestion of bits of trash have taken a toll.
Arizona, Utah and Baja Mexico also have wild populations. But even when captive birds are counted, there are fewer than 400 California condors in the world.
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Photo: A California condor protects its chick in a nest cave near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.