Good news is in sight for California condors, a bird species that fell near the brink of extinction as little as 30 years ago. In 1982 there were only 23 birds remaining, but they have just passed the 400 milestone, with 405 birds now on record.
A count on April 30 found 226 flying free over California, Arizona, and parts of Mexico, and 179 living in zoos and breeding centers.
The Oregon Zoo program has had a hard time maintaining the species, hatching 35 chicks altogether, with only 3 out of 8 eggs surviving over this past spring. Infertile eggs, air bubbles, and other complications have led zookeepers to send tissue samples to a lab in an effort to figure out what’s been going wrong.
Condors used to soar over most of the nation, once recognized as a symbol of the American wilderness. They were dubbed by Lewis and Clark as the “beautiful buzzards of the Columbia.”
After their sharp decline in the 1980s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured the remaining condors and put them in breeding programs throughout California, Idaho, and Oregon.
The condors will remain on the U.S. Endangered Species Act list until their population reaches 450. According to the recovery plan drafted in 1996, they must be dispersed among three populations of 150 birds, one captive and two wild, with 15 breeding pairs in each group. The groups must also be entirely self-sustaining by reproducing and expanding on their own.
Condors have a wing span of nearly 10 feet and can live up to 60 years. They’re known to be a very intelligent and inquisitive bird, and will take 5 to 8 years to reach sexual maturity, producing only one egg every other year.
It’s nice to hear some more positive environmental news (see also Peregrine Falcon Makes Inspiring Recovery From 80% Population Collapse) from the animal kingdom, isn’t it? Once the California condor population reaches 450, it will definitely be a memorable milestone.