With a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, the California Condor is one of the largest birds in North America. Condors can travel close to 50 miles per hour and cover over 200 miles in a day searching for food. They range from areas near the coast in California to the deserts of Utah and California. Condors can live up to 60 years in the wild and produce one egg per year.
The California Condor use to be prevalent all over the western United States, but due to habitat loss, lead poisoning, poaching, DDT, and the abundance of power line accidents, the Condors population dropped to about 22 that remained in captivity. Thanks to a captive breeding program their numbers have increased to around 330 birds with 175 flying in the wild in California, Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act Condors can have their habitat protected under federal law.
According to the Utah Division of Wildlife, lead poisoning is the cause of dozens of condors deaths. Condors are scavengers and sometimes find either an animal that has been shot, but never recovered by the hunters or an animal carcass that has been cleaned by hunters in the field. Information gathered from the Arizona Game and Fish Department shows that when a lead bullet enters a deer for example, the bullet loses 30 percent of it mass on impact and lead fragments are scattered throughout the deer. The remaining lead in the animal from the shattered bullet is ingested by the condor and causes it to have lead poisoning. Condors hunt in groups, so several birds can be infected from one carcass. Lead poisoning is the leading obstacle to condor recovery in Arizona and Utah. Below are some recovery efforts enacted by states to help condors recover.
· Since 2005 Arizona has been providing hunters in condor country with copper bullets to replace lead bullets.
· In 2008 California banned lead bullets in condor habitat.
· In 2010 Utah provided a similar program to Arizona were they provided copper bullets for voluntary use.
Using copper bullets over lead is superior for many reasons. All copper bullets have more knock-down power, are less toxic, and don’t shatter like lead. In an Institute for Wildlife Studies survey in Arizona, 93% of hunters agreed that non-lead bullets preformed better or similar to lead bullets.
Thanks for reading and remember to be like Bigfoot and Leave No Trace.
Pat and TJ
Leave No Trace’s Patrick and Theresa Beezley are part of the 2014 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, Coleman, Hi-Cone, The North Face, REI, Smartwool and Yakima.