A male California condor that was one of just 23 condors left in the world in the 1980s, has been released back into the wild after 30 years in a domestic breeding program. The bird, once named AC-4, and now re-tagged SB20, soared out of his open pen earlier this week at a canyon rim inside the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, in central California’s Kern County, near where he was first captured. It was the bird’s first free flight since 1985, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- in opposition to the National Audubon Society -- captured him near this same spot in a last-ditch attempt to stop the extinction of his species.
Today, California condors fly wild again in California and Arizona thanks to the contributions of AC-4, who sired 30 chicks released into the wild, including the first in the captive-breeding program.
The California Condor population is expected to continue to rise as California lawmakers voted in 2013 to phase out lead bullets by 2019. Lead poisoning from gut piles left by hunters has been a key factor in the decline of the condor. This last year, biologists recorded 19 wild condor nests in central and Southern California, more nests than at any point this century.
AC-4 is a pretty old bird, but they can live up to 60 years in the wild, so his best years may still lie before him. It's believe d he was 5 to 7 years old when he was wild-caught.
Today, there are more than 120 California condors flying free in Central and Southern California, more than 70 in Arizona and Utah, and 30 in Baja, Mexico. In addition, there are still 193 birds in a captive-breeding population.