Deadly Lead Levels Decrease in California Condors

Mar 14, 2014

Lead toxicity is the leading cause of diagnosed death for California condors in the wild. As Arizona Public Radio’s Parker Olson reports, the number of birds with lead poisoning has decreased for the first time in a decade.


The Peregrine Fund reintroduced California condors to the wild in 1996 and has increased the world population to more than 400. Chris Parish, the Condor Field Project Supervisor, describes the program.

“We have learned an awful lot, which is part of what we wanted to do with this program. To release the birds, that’s why it’s an artificial experimental area and an experimental population. Releasing the birds into the wild, monitoring them with telemetry, GPS telemetry and daily tracking by biologists who are out there monitoring them,” Parish says.

The main challenge for restoration is lead poisoning. The condors feed on animals that were shot by hunters using lead ammunition. Parish says that the reduced number of birds with dangerous blood-lead levels may be due to more hunters using non-lead ammunition.

“So really it’s just putting our best foot forward, saying to the hunters, ‘We need your help, lead is the number one cause of diagnosed death for condors, would you consider using non-lead. And by the way, Game and Fish is not only sending you this information, they will give you a coupon for free ammunition,’” he says.

Parish is optimistic this is only the start of the lead-poisoning reductions.

“Doesn’t make a trend, it’s one year. But, I don’t know, it’s kind of like the battle to lose weight: you don’t lose it all at once. So, I am hopeful this is the beginning of a new trend,” Parish says.