California Condor Recovery Program

California Condor. Photo courtesy of David Moen

Imagine a room decorated with unconventional objects of art, such as a calf leg and a rabbit spine. The finishing touches include a number of large, artistically placed feathers. Is this the latest episode of a home makeover show? Nope. Just the real-life nest of a fastidious California Condor named Paxa. One of 19 condor residents at the Oregon Zoo, Paxa is part of a pivotal program to save the California Condor from extinction.

Preservation of a peculiar species

In 1987, only 17 condors remained in the wild. The San Diego Zoo was the first breeding program to undertake the urgent mission of saving this bizarre-looking bird. In 2001, the Oregon Zoo became the fourth partner in the California Condor Recovery Program (CCRP). With the 2003 arrival of condors at the Oregon Zoo and the birth of a chick six months later, a century-long void in Oregon-born condors came to an end.

Condors were at one time plentiful in the Columbia River Gorge. The progress achieved by the CCRP has revived dreams of California Condors once again soaring over this northern part of their historic range. David Moen, conservation biologist for the Oregon Zoo, has undertaken the first search to identify breeding areas in Oregon.

Eagle Optics donations further vital research

Eagle Optics donated a Ranger binocular, Raven spotting scope, and tripod to assist David's fieldwork. David writes, "Your Ranger binoculars and Raven scope were tough enough to handle the job and are the staples I use day in and day out." David puts the equipment to good use as he scans cliffs hundreds of feet up for possible nest caves. His studies have yielded evidence proving nesting habitat was not a limiting factor for condors in the north—excellent news for future recovery efforts.

Approximately 150 condors now live in the wild, and another 150 live in captivity; this is a gigantic improvement over the meager population records of the 1980s. With the continued dedication of David and others like him, the Pacific Northwest will once again be inhabited with California Condors and their skillfully decorated nests.

Did you know?

  • California Condors reveal their emotions by changing skin color.
  • California Condors have toenails—not talons.
  • Chicks may take one week to emerge from their shell.
  • Condor beaks are powerful enough to pierce a horse's hide.
  • Immature birds will play by tossing, chasing, retrieving, and playing tug-of-war with feathers, sticks, and grass.

Visit California Condor Fun Facts for more about the condor, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon.

Photo of California Condor contributed by David Moen