California park officials spot condors for the first time in 50 years

Return of the condors! California state park officials spot nearly a dozen of the critically endangered birds for the first time in 50 years

  • California condors have not been seen in Sequioa National Park for 50 years
  • In late May, park officials spotted nearly a dozen of the massive birds in the area 
  •  California condors have been on the US endangered list since 1967

California condors disappeared from Sequioa National Park 50 years ago, never to be seen again – until now.

Park officials announced the return of the majestic scavenger after spotting nearly a dozen in the area on May 28.

The bird has been roaming North America for thousands of years, but is now critically endangered due to lead poising – the creatures ingest bullet fragments while feeding on carcasses of hunted animals.

Sequioa National Park has been closed since March up until last month due to the coronavirus pandemic, but some speculate the lack of visitors may have played a part in the condors return.

California condors disappeared from Sequioa National Park 50 years ago, never to be seen again – until now. Park officials announced the return of the majestic scavenger after spotting nearly a dozen in the area on May 28 (pictured)

California condors are the largest land animal in North America, with a 9.5-foot wingspan and weighing up to 31 pounds.

It once flourished across the US from California to Florida and even in Western Canada and Northern Mexico.

However, these massive birds have been on the decline from when European settlers first spread across North America, National Geographic reports.

And they have been on the US endangered species list since 1967 and were on the brink of extinction shortly after. 

At least six condors were spotted in the park in late May, including two near Moro Rock, a popular hiking destination. Four others were seen in the Giant Forest, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday in a joint news release

At least six condors were spotted in the park in late May, including two near Moro Rock, a popular hiking destination.

Four others were seen in the Giant Forest, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday in a joint news release.

The Sierra Nevada mountains were historically the home to condors, but by 1982 the population dropped dramatically due to lead poisoning – leaving less than 25 creatures in the area alive.

Tyler Coleman, a wildlife biologist with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said: ‘-It took decades for the population to recover to the point where they were being seen in locations far beyond their release site.

‘This is evidence of continued recovery of the species.’

‘The animal was on the brink of extinction, and arrival in Sequoia is good evidence that they are utilizing and occupying habitat where they once lived. It is an important milestone.’

Biologists  used GPS to locate the condors in the towering trees and craggy cliffs of the parks.

Dave Meyer, a California condor biologist with the Santa Barbara Zoo, said: ‘We use GPS transmitters to track the birds’ movement, which can be over hundreds of miles on a single day.’

‘On this particular day, we documented the birds’ signals around Giant Forest, and we are excited that park employees observed the birds and confirmed their use of this important historic habitat.’

The data captured by the GPS system provides scientists with a range of information such as condor habitats, nesting locations and feeding activities.

Researchers say lead poisoning is responsible for half of all condor deaths in which a cause is identifiable. The birds scavenge for their food, feeding on the bodies of dead animals, which often contain fragments of lead ammunition

The technology also spots sick and injured birds and locate condors that have died in the wild.

Researchers say lead poisoning is responsible for half of all condor deaths in which a cause is identifiable. 

The birds scavenge for their food, feeding on the bodies of dead animals, which often contain fragments of lead ammunition.

‘Lead-core bullets shed weight in small fragments as they hit game, and have the potential to poison wildlife, including condors, who scavenge the remains,’ said Chad Thomas, an outreach coordinator for the Institute for Wildlife Studies.

Thomas said his team educates hunting and ranching communities, which are key partners in wildlife conservation, on how ammunition impacts scavengers and about non-lead bullet options.

As their population continues to grow, condors have expanded their geographic range and now occupy portions of Ventura, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Tulare, Fresno and Madera counties and the Sierra Nevada mountains and adjacent foothills, officials said.

Condors have also returned to areas along California’s Central Coast, at Pinnacles National Park, and in Arizona, Utah, and Baja California, with a total wild population of approximately 340 birds, officials said.

Laura McMahon, wildlife biologist with the USFWS California Condor Recovery Program, said: ‘As biologists, we are excited to see condors continue to expand back into their historic range, and also for the opportunity to engage with the local communities to share what they can do to contribute to the recovery of California condors, and also inform them about threats to these birds.’

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