Two California condors were released from captivity this week, marking the first time the massive birds have flown over northern California and the Pacific Northwest in more than 100 years.
The birds were released from a pen in Redwood National Park just south of the Oregon border as part of a project to restore the birds in the region.
Two others are set to be released at a later date once observers determine the first two have shown appropriate behavior in the wild.
“They just jumped up and took flight off into the distance,” said Tiana Williams-Claussen, wildlife director for the Yurok tribe, according to the Associated Press.
California condors, the largest native North American bird, have not been seen in the region since 1892.
The birds had all but disappeared anywhere by the 1970s due to poaching, poisoning, and the destruction of their habitats. In the 1980s, the 22 known condors in the wild were trapped and brought into a captive breeding program.
Birds began being released in southern California in the early 1990s. The release this week in northern California was particularly significant for the Yurok tribe, which calls them prey-go-neesh and considers them sacred.
“The loss of the condor has limited our capacity to be Yurok because prey-go-neesh is such an important part of our culture and traditions,” Williams-Claussen told the North Coast Journal. “In a very real way, restoring condor habitat and returning condor to Yurok skies is a clear restoration of the Yurok people, homeland, ecological systems, culture, and lifeway.”
She noted the release is particularly significant for the younger generation.
“I have a 3-year-old-daughter. She is going to grow up with condors in her sky for her entire life. She is not going to know what it is to miss condors,” Willams-Claussen said. “She will always live in a relationship with condors, which is really what this project is all about.”
The vultures have a wingspan of up to 10 feet and can live for 60 years. Their ability to fly long distances in search of food means the birds could be spotted throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The condors released this week were both males. The two set to be released in the near future are a male and a female. Two were hatched at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, and two at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.
The birds are between the ages of 2 and 4, so a long life in the wild should be ahead of them.
“This is just incredible, exciting times,” Williams-Claussen told Jefferson Public Radio. “This has literally been my life’s work.”
The release of the birds involved moving them to a staging area where a remote-controlled gate was opened. After only a few minutes, the birds went through the opening and took flight.
“That was just as exciting as I thought it was going to be,” Williams-Claussen said. “Those guys just took right off.”
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