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After a Century-Long Absence, the California Condor Is Finally Making a Comeback

Welcome back, condors.


The population of the California condor, the largest land bird in North America, had dwindled to just two dozen as recently as the 1980s, when the last of the wild birds were taken into captivity. But since 1992, the species has been making a steady, if slow, comeback in Southern California and along the Central Coast. Now the big buzzards appear poised to reappear in Northern California’s skies for the first time in over a century.

The plan is to set about six of the birds free in the Bald Hills prairie in Redwood National Park, north of Eureka, sometime in 2019—about 105 years after their last sighting in that part of the state. If all goes well, another set will be released each year for a decade. Officials call Redwood National Park an ideal setting because of its lack of human presence, its maintenance by the National Park Service, and its steep hillsides.

Aside from the bird’s ecological importance to the state as a massive scavenger, the condor reintroduction offers a larger symbolic victory. At 25 pounds and with a 10-foot wingspan, the bird is an easy-to-spot example of conservation in action, even if its mug is somewhat less than awe-inspiring.

The birds still face an uphill climb: In 2016, there were 15 confirmed wild condor deaths in California—largely attributed to lead poisoning from spent ammunition—compared with only eight wild births.


Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco 

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