Like most species of vulture, the California Condor mainly scavenges on the carcasses of large mammals, but are also known to feed on dead rodents and rabbits. The birds have to push their heads into rotting flesh, so the bare head has presumably evolved to lessen the chance of disease and infection. The species has been blamed and persecuted for taking lambs and small livestock; however there is no legitimate basis for this accusation. There are no documented cases of California Condors killing any species of large mammal. California Condors nest in caves or large tree holes, but do not build nest structures within these cavities. They will roost on tree branches and along cliff ledges, often communally, although they do not nest communally and will defend their nesting area aggressively against other condors. They reproduce slowly, only reaching sexual maturity between the ages of six to eight years of age. Adults both taking take responsibility for rearing young. The female will lay a single egg every second year between the months of February and May. If this egg fails to hatch or is lost, the pair will lay a second egg, known as double brooding (or double clutching).
The California Condor is one of the most severely threatened bird species on the planet. The number one threat and leading cause of mortality to condor populations is lead poisoning from spent ammunition. Lead-based rifle ammunition fragments into hundreds of almost microscopic pieces as it passes through an animal. Many of these fragments are concentrated in what is called the gut pile – the heart, lungs, intestines and other organs that hunters leave behind in the field. These gut piles are an important food source for condors, but are also poisoning birds in the population due to the presence of these lead fragments. Illegal egg collection has also contributed to the decline in numbers. In recent years shooting has occurred to a lesser extent, but still remains a threat to released birds. The long-term success of reintroduced populations is jeopardised by exposure to lead from spent ammunition. The federal government in America is planning to phase out the use of lead in the United States but this will not take effect until 2019. This could not come soon enough as samples collected between 2004 and 2009 showed that almost 30% of condors are suffering the effects of lead in their bodies with levels in Arizona/Utah likely much higher. There is strong evidence that the deaths of some condors was caused by the consumption of discarded glass, wires and plastics. California Condors have also been killed through collisions with power lines. The survival of the wild populations is still dependent on the frequent recapture and treatment of birds for lead contamination.
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