The California condor is one of the largest birds presently living. Fossil evidence indicates the species was once found throughout much of North America. By the time of European settlement its range was limited to the western part of the continent.

In the 19th century there was already concern that the California condor could become extinct. The exceptional size of the bird, its carrion-eating habit, and human ignorance meant the species was subject to capture, egg collecting, harassment, shooting, and poisoning. But the species also drew the admiration of scientists, painters, poets, and photographers.

The first detailed study of the California condor was not begun until the 1930s. Serious efforts to ensure the species’ survival began soon after, as did controversy over whether the species should be managed or left alone in protected habitat. Over the next several decades that controversy escalated.

In 1987 the last free-living California condor was captured and the entire population then consisted of only 22 captives. Five years later, birds that had been bred and raised in captivity began to be released in southern California. Later releases took place in central California, Arizona, and Baja California.

As a result of an expensive and ongoing effort, there are now more than 400 California condors, about half in captivity and half living freely but still under intensive management.

31 July 2015