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Utah's California condor population on the rise thanks to non-lead ammunition

NPS/Michael Quinn

Many species are struggling with human development and climate change, but California condors, previously on the brink of extinction, are making a comeback in Utah.

Tim Hauck is the Peregrine Fund’s California condor reintroduction program manager. While condors were once nearly extinct, he said Utah is seeing condor populations bounce back.

“From being at a low point of just 22 individuals and now over 500 in the world, it certainly feels like there's tangible progress being made,” Hauck said.

Of those 500 condors, 112 live within the population that spans across Utah and Arizona, making these states important condor habitat.

Hauck attributed some of the population’s recovery to a boom in the number of chicks condors have been raising in the wild.

“Wild breeding success has been on the increase…it's a slow reproducing species. They reproduce every other year if they're successful. So, this was the first year we've had two successful fledges in the state of Utah,” Hauck explained. “So, that success, combined with tackling this issue of lead poisoning in the birds, those are the things that are going to push us over the edge and get us towards recovery.”

Condors are part of nature’s clean-up crew and specialize on eating dead animals. Unfortunately, condors also frequently consume lead bullets in the carcasses they eat, and as a result, lead poisoning currently makes up over half of condor mortalities.

To remedy this, the Peregrine Fund worked with states to create a program to educate hunters and convince them to use copper ammunition, a non-toxic substitute for lead. The program started in Arizona back in 2005, and since then, they’ve seen huge success in Utah as well.

“We gave every hunter that drew a tag within the range of the condor a free box of copper ammunition. It was greatly received by the hunting community, we passed along x-rays of condors, x-rays of deer with fragments of lead, and just explained to them the issue and we tried to reach out to their conservation ethic…and to see the change in attitude over that time is extremely rewarding,” said Hauck.

For more information about California condors and the Peregrine Fund, visit and

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.