Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Good News, Bad News for Endangered California Condors in 2012

Condor mother and chick in cave nest.
Living near the Big Sur coast and Pinnacles National Monument, I'm lucky enough to have glimpsed California condors soaring in the wild while I hike along windy beaches and rocky cliffs. Given that there were only about two dozen birds left in the world in the 1980s, their species recovery to over 400 birds counted earlier this year in 2012 is nothing short of amazing. Captive breeding programs and wild bird banding and tracking studies have kept these ancient ones from flying off into extinction.

Now here's the bad news. Just like in the late 20th-century, lead poisoning is again striking down these majestic hunters, whose future survival is still fragile. The culprit is lead ammunition being used by hunters, whose bullets become embedded in abandoned carcasses that then become food for condors. As discussed in a recent Los Angeles Times  article, unless a broader legal ban is instituted on lead ammunition within condor habitats, birds will likely continue to be poisoned, sickened and die.

You can learn more about these scrappy scavengers on the Big Sur coast at Andrew Molera State Park, where the Ventana Wildlife Society staffs the Discovery Center, now open Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Once the weather cools down, head inland to Pinnacles National Monument, a condor feeding and release site that hosts special birdwatching events, usually in fall, winter and spring (summer is just too hot!).

Can't travel to California? You can follow the condors' dramatic story online with Audubon California and the Ventana Wildlife Society blog and Facebook page, where condor sighting photos are posted. Find out how these birds narrowly came back from the brink of extinction in John Moir's moving and well-researched book, Return of the Condor.

Related links:
10 Steps to a Perfect Day in Big Sur
Marine Life Cameos at Monterey Bay Aquarium
Itty-Bitty Book Review: Shadow of the Bear

Photo credit: / CC BY 2.0

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