A California condor was observed flying through the air in the Bay Area of California, making it the first sighting of this species in more than 100 years. The spotting of the condor is significant, according to experts, because the giant California condor species was near extinct due to lead poisoning and insecticides like DDT.
Executive Director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, Kelly Sorenson, explained that the sighted condor was named “Lupine”, and while researchers had been tracking the female condor’s movements, they were still stunned to learn the bird had flown more than 100 miles away. “She was released into the wild from Big Sur a year ago, so this shows she is really spreading out her range,” said Sorenson. According to Sorenson, pesticides like DDT destroyed the eggs of condors, making reproduction for the largest bird in North America impossible. This recent sighting, she explained, was significant because it shows that conservation efforts are working to save the California condor. “This sighting shows that we’re on the right track. The population is breeding and expanding,” said Sorenson. The California condor, as a species can be traced back to the ice age, and remains of the prehistoric has been found in Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits.
Always moving west, they settled near the Colorado Rockies during the 1849 gold rush era, but since the 20’s century, it has only been found in California and Baja California. Once soaring the skies from British Colombia to Mexico, the giant California condor had a wingspan that could stretch 9 feet wide while weighing more than 30 pounds. It’s ancient ancestor, called Teratornis, had an even longer wingspan and weighed 50-pounds, making it the largest bird ever to fly.
Unfortunately, the condor population in 1982 had been reduced to just 22 birds nationwide. In addition to the pesticides and poisons, other factors contributed to the California condor’s near extinction. One of these factors was a reduced hunting range for the giant bird. At one time, the California condor fed on sea mammals like sea lions and seals. However, when those food sources began to dwindle, the California condor took to live stalk such as deer and pigs. On top of these elements, Sorenson explained that range retraction, or the shrinking of available hunting grounds due to development, also played a part in California condor’s demise.
However, through conservation and education, the population of the California condor is growing. The conservation efforts revolve around captive breed, currently being done at the World Center for Birds of Prey, San Diego Zoo Global, and the Los Angeles Zoo. In fact, experts like Sorenson believe that because sea lions and seals are now legally protected, it could be possible to see the return of the condor’s natural hunting habits, a major step forward on the road to natural reproduction. “Today more than 130 California condors are flying somewhere in California,” said Los Angeles Times reporter, Alicia Banks. “The last spotting of a condor was in 1904 near Stanford University.” The first condor spotting for the first time in 110 years represents a huge step forward in the science and practice of conservation, and is the first evidence of the potential for one species to come back from the dead.
By Vincent Aviani