The largest bird in North America, the California Condor, has taken wing over Northern California once again. Absent since the 1890s, endangered due to habitat destruction and pollution, decades of conservation efforts have now seen the giant birds re-introduced to the redwood forests of NorCal.
"It's really amazing to be the next big step for condors," says Tiana Williams-Clausen, a member of the Yurok Tribe and director of the tribal wildlife department. "To know that we're restoring them to Yurok ancestral territory, and this is restoring an integral and indescribable part of our spiritual and ecological community—it's a really big deal."
With hardly any hesitation, the first two condors soared out of their release pen in Redwood National Park and into the morning sunlight on May 3. Both birds, officially designated with tag numbers A2 and A3, are young males. In the coming weeks, two more birds, A0, a young female, and A1, another young male, will be released—the first four settlers of a budding population that will grow each year, both on their own and with additional releases.
All four pioneering birds are juveniles who were raised in breeding centers and have never navigated the world on their own. Biologists prepped the young birds for weeks, watching around the clock as they adjusted to their surroundings, learned to avoid threats like power lines, and established their flock dynamic with the help of an older mentor bird. The staggered releases will draw the free-flying birds back to socialize with the group and help biologists to carefully monitor their behavior.