PORTLAND, Ore. - California condors may soon be returning to the Pacific Northwest, and the Oregon Zoo is asking residents to take part in the national recovery effort by helping these endangered birds feel at home. All it takes is a little land, a willing heart -- and a strong stomach.
“With a few simple modifications and a decomposing carcass or two, you can transform any backyard into a healthy habitat for these colorful, charismatic and critically endangered birds,” said Dr. David Shepherdson, the Oregon Zoo’s deputy conservation manager.
Though native to the region, and commonly seen here during the time of Lewis and Clark, California condors haven’t soared through Northwest skies for more than a century. But if Oregon residents dig down and give these birds the rotting flesh they need, that could soon change.
A plan is currently in the works to reintroduce the continent’s largest bird into Redwood National Park in Northern California — just a short flight by condor standards from southern Oregon, which is also part of the species’ historic range.
“If we provide them with everything they need, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t make their way up to our area as well,” Shepherdson said. “We’re asking people to roll out the welcome mat, as it were — only rather than an actual mat, we recommend a week-old, lead-free gutpile.”
Considered nature’s clean-up crew, condors play a critical role in the ecosystem, feeding on dead animals. Shepherdson says local residents can attract this striking Northwest scavenger — which Lewis and Clark dubbed the “beautiful buzzard of the Columbia” — by spreading gobs of rotting entrails around backyards, parks, playgrounds and other open areas.
“California condors need healthy habitats to thrive, and you can help us make a difference,” Shepherdson said. “With just a little carrion, your yard or garden can provide these majestic birds with everything they need.”
The California condor was one of the original animals included on the 1973 Endangered Species Act and is classified as critically endangered. In 1982, only 22 individuals remained in the wild and by 1987, the last condors were taken into captivity in an attempt to save the species from extinction.
Thanks to breeding programs like the Oregon Zoo’s, condor numbers now total around 450, with the majority of those flying free.
As part of the Metro family, the Oregon Zoo helps make greater Portland a great place to call home. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs.
Other projects focused on saving animals from extinction include studies on polar bears, orangutans and cheetahs.
Support from the Oregon Zoo Foundation enhances and expands the zoo’s efforts in conservation, education and animal welfare. Members, donors and corporate and foundation partners help the zoo make a difference across the region and around the world.