The California Condor is one of the rarest birds in North America, and ranks among the rarest in the world. These enormous raptors are North America’s largest birds and have soared over the continent for tens of thousands of years. Sadly, they are most well-known today because of the enormous conservation efforts that have gone into preserving and safeguarding the species.
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California Condor numbers have been precarious for decades. In the 1970s, only a few dozen individual birds still lived. Since conservation efforts began in earnest in the 1980s, it’s been a race against the clock. Captive breeding programs were established to preserve California Condor populations and prepare them for re-release into their native habitats. In 2020, it was happily reported that California Condor numbers had surpassed 500 birds for the first time in 50 years. This exciting development was quickly followed by a tragic setback.
In April of 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that at least 20 California Condors from a flock in Arizona had succumbed to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak. In most contexts, a species-wide loss of just a couple dozen individuals has a minimal impact, but for the California Condor it was a potentially ruinous blow.
Part of the reason that California Condors are so rare is that they breed very slowly, usually producing a chick every other year. Their young take several years to reach a mature breeding age, so the loss of adult birds can set the population back by several years.
When this happened, it seemed like the entire future of the California Condor might be teetering toward the brink once more. Fortunately, one outbreak has not destroyed the fruits of decades of conservation. In the midst of an uncertain future, there are still triumphs.
One such triumph arrived in Contra Costa County last week. For the first time in a century, a flock of California Condors was tracked moving through Contra Costa County. This comes after a 2021 visit by a single condor to the area which had been the first sighting of a California Condor to the region in a hundred years.
Contra Costa County sits to the East of the San Francisco Bay. It is much further North than the typical sightings for these birds. While a flock of 26 individuals was initially tracked in the area, six went on to visit the area of Mount Diablo, the rolling hilly mountain that sits near the center of the county.
This is a huge victory for condor conservation and for the Bay Area. Local wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers hope that the future will hold many more condor sightings for the area.
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