Trying to find the California Condor

Towards the top of his Large 12 months, birder Arjan Dwarshuis stopped at Pinnacles Nationwide Park in California to hopefully sneak a peek at some of the elusive and intriguing birds in existence: the California Condor.

This huge and endangered chook isn’t solely a marvel to have a look at, it’s one of many largest flying birds on this planet. When it soars, the wings unfold greater than 9 ft from tip to tip. And has a wealthy and turbulent historical past that has helped it proceed to stay on in California at this time.

The next is an excerpt from The (Large) 12 months That Flew By by Arjan Dwarshuis. It has been tailored for the online.

In Search of the California Condor

I drive by means of a typical dry California hilly panorama to Pinnacles Nationwide Park. That is the habitat of the biggest and most endangered chook in North America, the California Condor. I’m flying to Japan tomorrow morning, so this iconic scavenger may simply be the final new species I see within the New World.

Within the context of my fundraiser for the Stopping Extinctions Program it could be an applicable species, as a result of no different North American chook has had such a turbulent historical past of conservation as this one.

The California Condor is a huge black chook with a fierce-looking, bald, pale pink head and contrasting white underwing coverts. It has a wingspan of just about 10 ft and might weigh as much as 22 kilos. The Andean Condor, which I noticed earlier this 12 months in Argentina, can develop even larger and weigh as much as 33 kilos.

Traditionally, the California Condor’s geographical distribution prolonged alongside virtually your complete west coast of North America, from the north of Baja California in Mexico to the south of British Columbia in Canada. However by the late 1800s, this space had dwindled. At the moment, solely about 600 of those birds are left. This decline had every part to do with the rise in human inhabitants. The condors had been shot for his or her lovely feathers, their eggs had been collected, they fell prey to cyanide traps for coyotes, and so they often crashed into electrical energy pylons and different human constructions. However the overwhelming majority died from lead poisoning.

The California Condor: An Endangered Scavenger

Condors are typical scavengers. They feed virtually completely on the carcasses of huge mammals. That’s the reason they’ve a bald head. After they disappear, head and all, into the belly cavity of a useless animal, much less rotting flesh and blood will get caught of their feathers. They observe down a meal with their distinctive eyesight, whereas they soar over the panorama at heights of as much as 2.5 miles. These carcasses used to come back from animals that had died of pure causes, however that modified when Western settlers arrived within the eighteenth century.

One of many settlers’ favourite pastimes was looking, primarily with lead bullets. When a shot animal managed to get away and finally died, the bullet was nonetheless caught in its physique. When condors that feasted on the cadaver ingested that bullet, the lead was absorbed by means of their digestive tracts and so they died horrific deaths.

The condor inhabitants plummeted. By the Nineteen Thirties, condors now not existed exterior the state of California. In 1953 the state declared the California Condor an formally protected species, and fourteen years later it was assigned endangered species standing by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Within the late Nineteen Eighties, a lot of areas had been designated as particular condor reservations. However it was all to no avail, as looking with lead bullets nonetheless happened on a big scale.

In 1985 there have been solely 9 birds left within the wild. At that time, it was determined to undertake the intense and controversial measure to seize all of them in an try to avoid wasting the species and defend the gene pool. The final wild condor, the well-known male AC9, was caught in April 1987. From then on, the species was formally extinct within the wild. There have been solely twenty-two California Condors on this planet, and so they all lived in captivity.

A Name to Motion: Rebuilding the Condor Inhabitants

Within the early Nineteen Eighties, a large-scale breeding program was arrange by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, with the participation of a number of well-known zoos, such because the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo. This was an enormous problem, as a result of condors grow to be sexually mature solely after six years and lift at most one younger each two years. However by eradicating the eggs shortly after laying, the birds had been inspired to put one other one.

These valuable eggs had been incubated artificially, and the younger had been raised by hand, making use of a rubber, lifelike condor-head glove so as to stop the younger birds from getting used to people. The breeding program was successful, and the inhabitants grew quickly. In 1992 the primary captive-reared condors had been launched into the wild. It wasn’t till 2002 {that a} condor was born within the wild once more, the primary time in eighteen years.

Now a number of hundred of those majestic birds reside within the wild. Despite the truth that looking with lead bullets is banned in California, it nonetheless takes place on a big scale. At this level, with out the assistance of the breeding program, the species would nonetheless grow to be extinct. That is maybe the final word paradox: The condor can’t stay with people, however it might probably’t stay with out them now, both.

Face-to-Beak With the California Condor

Pinnacles Nationwide Park is characterised by spectacular formations of orange rock which might be located in the course of the park. The condors construct their nests on inaccessible ledges alongside the steepest rock faces. After the reintroduction of the condor again into the wild, this nesting occurred for the primary time in 2016. The species has been breeding right here often ever since.

The birds are fitted with brightly coloured plastic wing tags in addition to GPS trackers, which permits researchers to acknowledge them individually from a fantastic distance and to intently monitor their whereabouts on-line. It’s also helpful to hint useless birds and decide the reason for demise. With each condor that may be confirmed to have died of lead poisoning, the argument towards looking with lead bullets positive aspects weight.

My associate and I are in a car parking zone on the backside of the rock formations. We watch the sky intently, and my telescope is on the prepared. We’ve already seen a lot of Turkey Vultures, the a lot smaller cousin of the condor, however to this point we haven’t discovered any hint of the king of California’s skies.

All of a sudden a chook of prey seems on the horizon. He retains his wings stiffly unfold as he glides effortlessly on the thermals alongside the rock formation. It’s solely when a Turkey Vulture flies subsequent to him that his huge dimension stands out: It’s as if a buzzard is flying subsequent to a Bald Eagle. It’s a California Condor, and its 10-foot wingspan casts an extended black shadow on the rock wall. I get him within the scope right away. As I like the chook, it’s joined by one other condor.

Every has brightly coloured wing tags and transmitters on its higher wings. It may very properly be that they’re a pair and that they’re constructing a nest, as a result of condors lay their eggs in early spring. We are able to observe them for minutes, till they disappear behind the rock formation. Then we get within the automobile and drive to Los Angeles. Tomorrow morning I’ll fly to Vietnam through Tokyo and Taiwan to start out the finale of my Large 12 months.

Really useful Reads

A 12 months of World Birdwatching: The Thrill Of the Chase

Sightings Whereas Biking: A Journey Via Nature


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