Conservation Comeback: The California Condor

The California condor is a North American wildlife icon — it is the continent’s largest land bird and one of nature’s most industrious scavengers. The species was left in dire straits when numbers plummeted after European colonization, with only 60 condors remaining by 1967. The decline was driven by poisonous lead fragments from bullets left behind in gut piles, which the condors ingested while feeding on animal remains. In 1982, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched a last-ditch effort to save the species through captive breeding. Over the next several decades, this captive breeding program slowly began to rebuild the dwindling population — and in 1991, conservationists released captive-bred condors back into the wild for the first time. The condor’s journey isn’t over, as lead shot continues to threaten the species, but the success is still monumental: today there are 350 wild California condors, and their range is expanding.

Explore more stories from the full Conservation Comeback series now.