California condors return to the skies above north coast redwoods for the first time in over a century: “They just jumped up and took off.”

The threatened California condor returned to soar in the skies above the redwood forests of the state’s north coast on Tuesday for the first time in more than a century.

Two captive-bred birds were released from an enclosure in Redwood National Park, about an hour’s drive south of the Oregon border, as part of a project to restore giant vultures to their historic Pacific habitat. North Western.

The two male condors were moved to the rest area in the late morning and a remote-controlled gate was opened. After a few minutes of gazing cautiously at the opening, the birds advanced one by one through the opening, spread their giant wings, and left.

“They just jumped up and flew off into the distance,” Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director of the region’s Yurok tribe, said in a webcast.

Condors were last seen in the park area around 1892, authorities said. The California condor is the largest native bird in North America, with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. The scavenger was once widespread but practically disappeared in the 1970s due to poaching, lead poisoning from the consumption of animals killed by hunters and the destruction of its habitat.

California condor
This undated photo provided by the Yurok tribal government shows two California condors waiting to be released in a designated paddock, attached to the flight paddock.

/ AP

Birds can live for 60 years and fly great distances in search of carrion, so their range could extend into several states.

Federal and local fisheries and wildlife agencies are involved in the restoration project led by the Yurok tribe, who traditionally regard the California condor as a sacred animal and have been working for years to restore the species to the tribe’s ancestral territory.

“For countless generations, the Yurok people have held the sacred responsibility of maintaining balance in the natural world. The reintroduction of Condor is a real-life manifestation of our cultural commitment to restore and protect the planet for future generations,” he said. Tribal President Joseph L. James said in a statement.

Two more condors were reportedly released later, after biologists determined that the two birds that took to the skies on Tuesday displayed appropriate behavior, authorities said.

Condors, including one female and three males, are between 2 and 4 years old. Two were born at the Oregon Zoo and two at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Idaho.

In the early 1980s, all 22 remaining condors in the wild were trapped and brought into a captive breeding program that began releasing giant vultures to Los Padres National Forest in Southern California in 1992.

That flock has expanded its range while other condors now occupy parts of the central coast of California, Arizona, Utah, and Baja California, Mexico. The total population now numbers more than 500 birds in captivity and in the wild.

Two years ago, California condors were spotted in Sequoia National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada for the first time in nearly 50 years.

However, that same year, a dozen adults and two chicks died when a fire started by an arsonist ravaged their territory on the Big Sur coast.

How hunters can help the California condor return

Chris Parish, director of global conservation at the Peregrine Fund, he told CBS News last year that 54% of the condor deaths they monitor are due to lead poisoning.

Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin; it’s also what most ammunition is made of. The birds are dying from the bullets. They are not affected by them; they are literally eating lead.

“Looking for obligate wildlife, such as the condor, they only consume things that are already dead,” Parish said.

When hunters kill an animal, such as a deer, they often leave some of the remains behind. But they may unintentionally leave behind tiny bits of lead, which end up in condors when they pass by to enjoy a meal.

“Some of those tiny fragments that remove those bullets that we’ve been using for 100 years can poison wildlife,” Parish said.

Parish is on a mission to convince hunters to hunt with lead-free ammunition, such as copper bullets, by demonstrating across the country. It’s a world he knows well: “I’m a kind of red-necked hunter biologist, and these hunters are my people.”

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