One of the world’s rarest and most imperiled birds today was named the 2011 Audubon California Bird of the Year. The California Condor received the designation after it received nearly 35 percent of votes cast. Although the bird can be found in several southwestern states and in Mexico, it is a distinct part of California’s natural heritage – so much so that it is depicted on the California version of the U.S. quarter.
“In many ways, there is no more deserving bird for this designation than the California Condor,” said Dan Taylor, executive director of Audubon California. “Not only is it a remarkable example of the beauty of nature, but it also represents the incredible conservation challenges that birds face.”
The California Condor has been in sharp decline for more than 100 years. It was first listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1967, and in the mid-1980s reached a low of 22 individual birds. Since then, an aggressive captive breeding and release program by a group of government agencies and nonprofit organizations has built the population up to 394 total birds, 205 of which are in the wild.
Audubon’s involvement in the preservation of this important species began back in the 1930s and continues with Audubon California’s work today. In 2007, Audubon California led the effort to reduce the risk of contamination from spent lead ammunition in the condor’s historical range. More recently, the organization has been working with regulators and wind generators to ensure that measures are taken to protect California Condors from risks posed by wind turbines.
Nearly 10,000 votes were cast in this year’s Bird of the Year poll. The California Condor received 34.6 percent of the votes, narrowly beating out the lesser-known Black Oystercatcher, which received 33.6 percent. A distant third was the Western Snowy Plover with 8.7 percent and the Sandhill Crane with 8.1 percent.
While the California Condor wins the designation of 2011 Bird of the Year, Taylor emphasized that Audubon California will continue to work on behalf of all California birds.
“Each of the seven nominated birds was a major focus of conservation in 2011, although not all in the same way” said Taylor. “It’s our hope that the attention that the Bird of the Year draws to the California Condor will help build support for bird conservation across species in California.”