The rare California condor, which was once endangered, flew back to the sky over California's northern redwood forests Tuesday for the first-time in over a century.
Two captive-bred birds were released in Redwood National Park about an hour south of the Oregon border. This was part of a project to restore giant vultures' historic habitat in the Pacific Northwest.
Two male condors were taken to a staging area in the late morning. A remote controlled gate was then opened. After looking at the opening for a while, the condors stepped through it one by one, and spread their huge wings before taking off.
Tiana Williams-Claussen (wildlife director for the Yurok tribe in the region) said that the Yuroks "just jumped up" and flew off into the distance.
Authorities said condors were last seen in the park around 1892. With a wingspan nearly 10 feet, the California condor is North America's largest native bird. Although once common, the scavenger has been almost extinct since 1970s due to poaching and lead poisoning.
They can live up to 60 years, and they can fly long distances looking for carrion. Their range could even extend to several states.
The Yurok tribe is involved in the restoration effort. They have been working for years on the species' return to their ancestral territory.
"For many generations, the Yurok have held a sacred obligation to preserve balance in the natural environment. Condor reintroduction "is a real-life expression of our cultural commitment, to restore and preserve the planet for future generations," Joseph L. James, tribal chairman, stated in a statement.
Two additional condors will be released after biologists have determined that the condors who took to the sky Tuesday had displayed acceptable behavior, authorities stated.
Condors range in age from 2 to 4 years, with one male and three females. Two condors were born at the Oregon Zoo, and two at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey Idaho.
All 22 remaining condors in the wild were captured in the 1980s and taken into a captive breeding program. The program began releasing giant vultures in Southern California's Los Padres National Forest, in 1992.
The condor flock is expanding their range as other condors are now found in California's Central Coast and Arizona, Utah, Baja California, Mexico, and Utah. In captivity, the total number of birds is more than 500.
Two years ago, California condors could be seen in Sequoia National Park in California's Sierra Nevada for the first time since nearly 50 years.
However, the wildfire started by an arsonist destroyed their territory along the Big Sur coast that year.
How hunters can help the California condor comeback
Chris Parish, director of global conservation for the Peregrine Fund, stated last year to CBS News that 54% of condor death they monitor were due to lead poisoning.
Lead is a neurotoxin that can be deadly. It's also the main ingredient in most ammunition. Birds are dying due to bullets. They aren't being shot at by them, they're actually eating lead.
Parish stated that they are not allowed to "scavenge wildlife that is obligated, like the condor. They only consume things that have already died."
Hunting deer often leaves behind some remains after they kill it. They may have accidentally left behind small pieces of lead that end up in condors as they pass by to enjoy a meal.
Parish stated that "some of those small fragments that strip off those bullets we have used for 100 years can be poisonous to wildlife."
Parish is on a mission: to persuade hunters to hunt with non lead ammunition like copper bullets. He has been demonstrating across the country. He is familiar with the world: "I'm a redneck hunterbiologist and these hunters are my people."