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Wildlife Wednesday: California Condor

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Wildlife Wednesday: California Condor

This Wildlife Wednesday, learn about the California condor, and why we should care about ugly animals too.

According to one theory, cute animals are the ones that are most likely to be targeted by conservation efforts and protected. If this is the case, the poor California condor may be out of luck—although this giant North American bird serves a valuable scavenging role in the environment, it is considered a less-than-cute bird. Okay, it’s pretty darn ugly. This Wildlife Wednesday, learn about the California condor, and why we should care about ugly animals too.

Habitat: California, Nevada, and Arizona

California condor trivia

  • California condors are sacred to certain Native American groups and called the thunderbird.
  • They’re the largest bird in all of North America, with a wingspan of up to 10 feet (3 metres).
  • They often live to the ripe old age of 60 in the wild (although they’ve been known to live to 80!).
  • They’re considered a prehistoric bird and they once had a much wider range.
  • California condors reproduce very slowly, taking up to eight years to reach maturity and breeding, and laying an egg once every one to two years.
  • Even though they’re scavengers, they’re also neat freaks! Their bald heads, which we may deem “ugly,” actually lets them more easily feed on carcasses without getting dirty. Plus, they take a lot of time to clean the rest of their feathers and bathe very often.
  • Depending on their mood, their heads change colour. When they’re excited or anxious, for instance, it turns bright red.

Why we need them
Condors are scavengers. Although the word “scavenger” has a negative connotation, they’re actually essential to keeping the environment and landscape tidy and clean—they get rid of all of the waste that others leave behind.

Why they’re threatened
Loss of land for habitat, as well as poaching has threatened the population. Another, more surprising challenge these condors are facing is lead poisoning.

Being scavengers, California condors will feast on anything deceased, including large mammals such as cattle and deer, as well as smaller animals such as rodents and rabbits. But sometimes, animals shot by hunters are not retrieved by the hunters, so they still have bullet fragments in them. Condors eat the bullet fragments and get lead poisoning.

In the 1970s there were only two or three dozen California condors left. And in 1987, all of the remaining birds (there were fewer than 10) were brought into captivity for a breeding program. This was deemed successful, and many were reintroduced into the wild. Recent counts are showing more hopeful numbers, with a recent study finding 405 California condors. So maybe there’s hope for ugly animals after all?

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