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California Condors Seen In Sequoia National Park For The First Time In 50 Years


As California condors have been spreading across the state as part of a reintroduction of the endangered birds, a few have been spotted in Sequoia National Park amongst the giant trees after not having been seen in the area for half a century.

“Condors were consistently seen throughout the parks until the late 1970s. Observations became increasingly rare throughout the latter portion of the century as the population declined,” Tyler Coleman, a wildlife biologist with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said. “Four condors were spotted flying near the Giant Forest and at least two near Moro rock.”

Though these birds in particular were seen by National Park Service (NPS) staff, the birds were also being tracked by other authorities. These birds have been tagged with GPS transmitters as a way to keep an eye on the bird's habitats, nesting locations, feeding activities, and to assist in finding sick or injured birds or birds that have died in the wild.

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

As part of a news release from the NPS on the sighting of the birds in the park came a history lesson about the range the birds once had and what has been done to bring the species back.

"Condors historically occupied the Sierra Nevada and were known to nest in the cavities of giant sequoia trees. By 1982 the wild population was reduced to 22 birds, all of which were eventually trapped and brought into captivity to prevent the extinction of the species and save the remaining gene pool for use in a captive breeding program."

"With the establishment of the successful captive breeding program at the Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park, in 1992 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and partner organizations began releasing condors back into the wild in the mountains of the Los Padres National Forest in Southern California. This flock of condors has grown to approximately 100 through the continued release of captive-bred birds and wild reproduction, and with the support of private and public agencies and organizations, local communities and landowners."

"The Southern California flock continues to expand its geographic range as the population grows and now occupies portions of Ventura, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Kern, Tulare, Fresno and Madera counties and the Sierra Nevada mountains and adjacent foothills. Condors also occupy areas along California's Central Coast, at Pinnacles National Park, and in Arizona, Utah, and Baja California, Mexico, making up a total wild population of approximately 340 birds."

Lead poisoning is cited as the primary impediment to the recovery of the California condor. As these birds are scavengers, their food supply consists of the carcasses of dead animals, some of which contain lead ammunition fragments. Lead is the cause for half of all condor deaths in which a cause is identifiable.

“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,” Chad Thomas, non-lead outreach coordinator for the Institute for Wildlife Studies, said. “The hunting and ranching communities are key partners in wildlife conservation. We continue to share information with these communities on how ammunition choices impact scavengers, and the ballistics of non-lead bullet options, so they can continue providing important food sources and valuable working landscapes for condors.”

Photo: Two of the California condors on Moro Rock - Credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region/Flickr

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