California Condor
© Douglas Croft

California Condor

Threats to California Condors


When Europeans arrived in North America, condors could be found all throughout the mountain regions along the Pacific Coast. But due in large part to habitat loss, illegal shootings, and lead poisoning, by 1985 the entire wild known population had been reduced to just nine birds. That’s when a decision was made to bring all of the remaining wild birds into captivity to preserve the species through captive breeding and eventual reintroduction.

The last free-flying California condor was captured in April of 1987. Fortunately, California condors breed well in captivity and by 1991, a sufficient number of California condors had been bred to allow the bird to be reintroduced into the wild. Today, there are more than 400 condors in the world, with more than 230 flying high in the wild. However, as they continue to recover, these birds still face many threats from humans.

Intolerance: Human activity poses the greatest threat to condors. Due to their massive wingspan of nearly 10 feet, condors can close the circuit of high voltage power lines, electrocuting themselves in the process. These big birds also pick up and feed their young small objects, including “microtrash” left behind by humans, such as pennies and pieces of glass, which often leads to the death of the chick. Condors have been known to accidentally drink poison like antifreeze. Some people even shoot condors, though it’s been illegal to do so for many years.

Habitat Loss: Human development has significantly degraded or completely destroyed the habitat condors require for foraging, nesting and roosting. When we build housing developments and other projects, we may destroy condor habitat. Oil and gas production and large-scale solar and wind projects also fragment important condor habitat.

Lead poisoning: When hunters or poachers leave their kills behind, they also leave the lead ammunition that was used to kill them. Given that condors forage exclusively on dead animals, they are especially susceptible to lead exposure from carcasses left in the field, and lead poisoning is often fatal for these and other carrion-eating birds. Many scavenging species, including condors, eat in a group, which means that a single contaminated carcass has the potential to poison several animals at a time.  Lead poisoning from spent ammunition is the number one cause of death among endangered condors.