Endangered California Condors Return to Sequoia NP, First Time in 50 Years

Photo: Jean Beaufort

California condors are the largest land birds in North America, with wingspans ten feet across. At one time, they could be found across the contiguous US, and in southern Canada and northern Mexico. They were commonly seen in the Sierra, soaring above majestic granite peaks, and nesting in the hollows of massive pine trees. But by the 1980s, there were fewer than 25 of the birds left in the wild, victims of pollution and lead poisoning.

For a decade, the surviving birds were kept in captive breeding programs in California, then, in 1992, they were released into the wild again, in Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest, not far from the Pacific. Over the decades, their numbers have grown, as the captive-bred birds and those born in the wild reproduced. There are now some 340 birds, ranging into Central California and Baja, Mexico.

Finally, 50 years after they were last seen there, condors have been spotted alighting in Sequoia National Park, meaning their population has grown enough that they’re expanding their range and retaking once-held habitats in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

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

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