ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The California Condor

Updated on December 13, 2015
California condor in flight
California condor in flight | Source

The California condor has a wingspan of nearly ten feet - The largest of any North American bird. With a weight of up to 25 pounds, it is second only to the trumpeter swan as the heaviest bird on the continent. Lifting up their large bodies by flapping their wings requires a lot of energy, so California condors prefer to soar instead. When they land, they prefer cliffs, which makes takeoff easy. There are often thermal columns of rising air near cliffs that help them gain altitude.

Extinction for the California condor once seemed inevitable. By 1987 there were only 22 birds left in the world. Through captive breeding programs, the population has rebounded to over 400.

Decline of the California Condor

The California condor once roamed over much of North America. It is a scavenger, and once fed on the megafauna of North America. As humans entered the continent and hunted to extinction much of the megafauna, condor numbers began to fall By 1800, its range was restricted to the southwest and the west coast. The Lewis and Clark expedition sighted one in present day Oregon.

As humans began to settle the areas where the California condor lived, its numbers began to fall due to loss of habitat and hunting. Another factor affecting the condor population was DDT. Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller discovered DDT was an excellent insecticide in 1939. Soon it was widely used to control mosquitoes and and therefore malaria. Müller was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1948 for his discovery. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that DDT tended to concentrate in raptors and waterfowl, and caused their eggs to be thinner than normal. This lead to egg breakage and a lower rate of successful reproduction.

Another major factor affecting California condors is ingestion of lead shot. In its scavenging, it often consumes animals that have been hit by hunters, swallowing the lead shot, resulting in lead poisoning. California condors are more susceptible to lead poisoning than other vultures because of the very strong digestive juices in their stomachs. In 2007, California passed a law prohibiting lead ammunition in areas where condors reside. In 2013, the state passed a law to phase out lead ammunition by 2019.

Captive Breeding of the California Condor

It was decided that the only way to save the California condor from extinction was through captive breeding. By early 1987, all 22 wild birds had been captured. The breeding program was spearheaded by the Los Angeles and San Diego zoos.

Normally, condors only lay one egg and raise a single chick. Captive breeders were able to exploit the fact that if they removed the egg from the nest immediately after it was laid, the breeding pair would lay another. The condors would raise the second chick, while humans would have to raise the first chick. To make sure these chicks knew they were condors and not humans, they were fed by puppets which were made to look like condors.

California condor being fed by puppet
California condor being fed by puppet | Source

Re-introduction of the California Condor

Before California condors were re-introduced into the wild, some re-introduction tests were done with female Andean condors, which are native to South America. This was a dry run for the later release of California condors. It was intended to uncover any problems with the re-introduction process without risking any of the very rare California condors. The tests were successful, and all the Andean condors were re-captured.

The original plan was to establish two wild populations, one in California and one in Arizona. Each population would have at least 150 condors and 15 breeding pairs. Condors were released into California in 1991-1992 and into Arizona in 1996. As the captive population grew, additional release sites were identified. These include two more sites in California and one in Mexico's Baja California. In 2014 a pair nested in Utah's Zion National Park. By late 2014 there were over 400 California condors, roughly evenly split between wild and captive birds.

In 2014 a pair of California condors raised a chick in Zion National Park
In 2014 a pair of California condors raised a chick in Zion National Park | Source


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This was very well done. Years ago, humans were raising the Sandhill Cranes in the South to bring up their low populations as well. Zoos and human intervention sometimes have their uses, especially when people cause a near extinction.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting story. Saving the California condor sounds like it was a major undertaking! I'm so glad that the bird was helped.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)