California Condor

North America's largest flying land bird
Despite our efforts to recover this critically endangered species through captive breeding, release, and monitoring, preventable lead poisoning stands in the way. But like these giants of the sky, we’re learning to rely on hunters…


Alan Clampitt

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Long before humans arrived in North America, these finely tuned scavengers relied in part on hunters—sabertooth cats and other large predators—for carrion. Condors’ clean-up role hasn’t changed, but new hunters to the scene can unintentionally leave behind a deadly contaminant: lead from spent ammunition.

The California Condor is a hardy species that survived mass extinctions of the last Ice Age, yet the entire population was reduced to just 22 individuals by the 1980s. Scientists suspected that lead poisoning played a role in the species’ decline, and recent research by The Peregrine Fund confirmed that over half of all condor deaths are due to this one preventable cause. 


Threats to California Condors

icon of lead ammunition
Lead Poisoning
Human head with symbols
Human Conflict

Angela Woodside

our impact
We began breeding California Condors in 1993 at our facility in Boise, Idaho. They go to release sites in Arizona, California, and Baja Mexico. We established our release program in 1996 at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona.

We have re-established a free-flying population now numbering 100+ condors from the Grand Canyon into Utah. We annually health-check every condor we can trap. Last season, 87% of those trapped tested positive for lead exposure.  

California Condor takes its first flight near Grand Canyon
our impact
The public can see the first free flights of captive-bred juveniles from our Vermilion Cliffs release site each September on National Public Lands Day.

Year-round, the Condor Cliffs exhibit at our World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, offers a closer look at these impressive birds.

The ‘aha’ moment occurred when we x-rayed deer harvested with common lead-based bullets. A constellation of tiny fragments, too numerous to count, appear in the tissue surrounding the bullet’s path. Not only do California Condors ingest this lead, it’s evident that many other species, even humans, may be exposed to lead-tainted meat. Like the canary in the coal mine, the California Condor has alerted us to an unforeseen and preventable hazard.

By switching to non-lead ammunition, hunters can eliminate the potential for lead exposure to any animal. Thanks to our work with Arizona and Utah wildlife agencies over the last decade, more than 80% of deer hunters on Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau now take voluntary actions to prevent exposure. Their conservation ethic will inspire others to make the switch to copper, but we need to spread the message to a wider audience.

To accomplish this, we have united to form a North American Non-Lead Partnership, whose sole purpose is to reach hunters, shooters, and other sporting and conservation groups with information about preventing lead poisoning.

The world population of California Condors continues to grow slowly, with more than 400 now in existence. More than half live in the wilderness, ready to fill their niche as skilled scavengers if only we can make their world a little safer.


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