Explaining a mysterious death

Updated 4 December 2019

The headline “Rare Condor’s Fall from the Sky Remains a Puzzle” appears in the Fresno Bee newspaper for 26 May 1965. The article explains:

The condor’s mysterious death was witnessed Sunday by G. B. (Jerry) Coigny … He said it was making low circles about 50 feet high when it stopped flying and plummeted to the ground.

Here’s the story, as told in a government report and other publications.

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Hazardous hail

Yesterday the Denver Post reported that an Airbus A320 had been forced to make an emergency landing after being damaged by hail. Once safely on the ground, the passengers saw that the hail had, according to the reporter, “cracked the front windshield and punched the nose cone.”

In 1938, Egmont Rett of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History described a case of California condors not being as fortunate as that airliner. Rangers searching for a possible lightning-caused fire encountered 2 dead condors. At the scene, “[h]ailstones as large as walnuts still lay two feet deep in the gullies.”

01 Egmont Rett

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Don’t blame us

The factors responsible for the near extinction of the California condor have been debated since the 19th century. Today, the factor considered the greatest threat to condors is the use of lead ammunition by hunters. Condors may be poisoned by lead when they consume “gut piles”, the entrails of deer and other game left behind by hunters.

Among the many other threats to condors that have been reported through the years are the poisons employed to kill agricultural pests and the shooting of condors for their feathers. This has led to defensiveness by trade organizations associated with these activities.

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