Life in the midst of a pandemic offers precious little to celebrate, but the California condor success story should warm all of our hearts.
America’s largest birds — their wingspan stretches to 9 feet, 2 feet wider than a bald eagle’s — were so close to extinction that they were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1967. Eventually, only 22 remained. Today, there are 504 California condors with 329 flying in the wild.
The decision to capture the only remaining condors and breed them in zoos wasn’t without controversy. Renowned environmentalist David Brower said that creating artificial environments where condors would be bred equated to a “kind of immorality.” But the program, which involved building feeding stations to train young condors how to forage for food in the wild, is a major success story.
Condors lay only one egg every year, the lowest reproductive rate of any bird. It takes six years for condors to reach adulthood, and they can live up to 60 years.
The future of condors is far from certain. The Dolan Fire that raged across Big Sur this past fall killed 11 condors. But the Bay Area News Group reported recently that a 23-year-old female condor, dubbed Redwood Queen, in February laid an egg in the top of a charred redwood tree that flames had blackened in August.
It offered inspiration to Kelly Sorensen of the nonprofit group Ventana Wildlife Society, which helps lead efforts to restore condors: “These birds aren’t giving up. Neither are we.”