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Wildfire Added to List of Threats to California Condor

Chris Parish

A new study shows only about half of wild California condors live long enough to raise a chick.  The researchers found one of the threats faced by the endangered birds is wildfire.

The researchers tracked more than 200 condors in California for two decades. The main cause of death was lead poisoning from bullet fragments, but another common killer came as a surprise. Seven condors died in wildfires.

Terra Kelly, a scientist at the University of California-Davis now based in Flagstaff, is the lead author of the study. “We suspect that the fire poses the greatest risk to condors when it burns through roosting and nesting areas at night,” Kelly says.   

Condors only fly in the day, and they tend to roost in groups. That’s why Kelly says a fast-burning wildfire can be catastrophic to the small population. But fire might not be as much of a threat in Arizona.

Chris Parish leads the condor recovery project at The Peregrine Fund. “We might have a bit of an advantage here in the fact that condors are utilizing cliff faces, with little to no vegetation on those cliff faces,” he says. "So will it be as much of a problem here? I’m not sure. But it’s to be noted as one of the potential threats.”  

Reintroduction efforts began in the 1990's after the condor’s near-extinction. Now there are about 75 wild condors in northern Arizona and southern Utah.

The study appeared in the November issue of Biological Conservation.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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