With its signature black and white coloring and nine-foot wingspan, the California condor is a wonder to behold as it soars through the sky. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the world’s endangered birds. In the 1980s, there were only 22 birds left in the world, and wildlife officials initiated a captive breeding program in hopes of saving the species from extinction.
Today, numbers have grown to nearly 500, over half of which live in the wild in Arizona, Utah, California, and Baja California, Mexico. Unfortunately, certain human activities have prevented the condor from becoming a self-sustaining population.
Arizona Game and Fish is tackling this challenge head-on, partnering with many agencies and organizations like the Peregrine Fund and the National Park Service. Every condor in the wild is tagged, tested and monitored to keep track of overall populations numbers and health. Also, AZGFD has worked hard to educate those who live, work and hunt near the Grand Canyon to reduce hazardous litter. Curious by nature, condors are attracted to shiny objects and will often ingest litter, which gets lodged in their digestive system. Lead fragments also are ingested by condors scavenging animals shot with lead bullets by hunters, causing lead poisoning in these birds. Arizona Game and Fish actively works at educating hunters to use non-lead ammunition or to remove entire carasses from the field. The conservation work and education is paying off—for example nearly 90% of hunters have voluntarily participated in lead-reduction efforts, such as trading lead-based bullets for non-lead ammo.
With continued education, monitoring and awareness, we remain hopeful that the California condor will thrive as a species and remain a favorite sight at the Grand Canyon.