• U.S.

Animals: Condor Upturn

2 minute read

Off to the rugged Sespe Valley in the wild back country of California’s Ventura County one day last week motored a Los Angeles Times newshawk, a photographer and Sidney B. Peyton, Fillmore citrus grower and able amateur ornithologist. Up and up for a mile they climbed a great hogback of white cliffs, jagged peaks, huge caves and waterfalls. When the narrow road ended they left their car, tramped off into the brush. After a few miles, shouts went up as they saw what they had come to see—a monstrous black bird soaring far overhead, its white underwings flashing in the sun. In the same desolate spot they might have seen an identical sight 1,000,000 years ago. It was that Pleistocene survival, the giant California condor, one of the biggest birds alive.

Half a century ago these great vultures, with bald orange heads and wingspreads up to eleven feet, were common in California. Then ranchers began to push back toward the mountains, spread poisoned carcasses for wolves, foxes, coyotes. Condors gobbled these, also made fine targets for riflemen. In 1910 California passed a law forbidding condor killing, providing stiff fines and jail sentences for the offense.

Hunters still continued to take potshots, and as California grew more civilized, condor food grew scarcer. Condors that died were not easily replaced, for this filthy, majestic scavenger lays only one or two eggs at a time, every other year. Though virtually extinct in recent years, the California condor was expected soon to follow the great auk. dodo and passenger pigeon into history.

That afternoon the Los Angeles Times expedition sighted eleven condors, also some white-downed two-year-olds still diving down their parents’ throats for food. Some of the oldsters, Expert Peyton thought, had lived a century or more. Joyfully he opined that the condor had turned back from its road to extinction.

If that were true, generations to whom giant airliners will be a commonplace may yet thrill to one of nature’s greatest sights —a giant condor taking off. Trotting down a slight incline with wings half spread, gathering speed, nosing up at full stretch, picking favorable currents, it spirals up, up, up 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 ft. to soar for hours without one visible motion of its magnificent wings.

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