|Only 22 California condors (Gymnogyps californianus), were still living in the wild in
1982, because of a drastic loss of habitat and an increase in the number of
predators that kill them. A program to raise them in captivity has increased to about
160 living free over California. Researchers must locate a nest high up on mountain
cliffs, remove one egg, which they incubate for two months. When the egg hatches
biologists raise the baby bird in captivity. Condors will lay a second egg to replace
the one taken and raise it themselves.
But, a new threat that could make them extinct has been discovered by biologists.
The hundreds of California condors currently flying over the state are found to
contain alarming amounts of lead.
It is believed that they consume lead from bullets as they scavenge carcasses.
These numbers will continue to shrink if they sick and dead are not replaced in large
numbers from those bred in captivity. Scientists have analyzed lead content from the
blood and feathers of California condors from about 30% of the free-living condors
and have discovered enough lead to seriously harm their health. About 20% of these
have lethal amounts of lead and must be brought in for a detox.
Breeding once every 2 years, they have a low fertility rate, laying only one egg at a
time. They become mature enough to lay eggs around six years old and can live up to
sixty years. The female and male take turns sitting on the egg to keep it warm and
when it hatches they feed it until it is about one year old. By then, condors are old
enough to watch for animals killed by other predators and swoop in to steal the
carcass. Condors are scavengers and do not usually kill and eat live animals.
California condors are almost all black and have a bare head and neck which can be
red, pink, blue, orange or yellow and males and females look the same. They have
excellent sense of smell which helps them to smell decaying carcasses.
Snyder, H. The California Condor:Saga of Natural History and Conservation. 2000.
Sartore, J. Rare: Portraits of America's Endangered Species. 2010.