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Rare California Condors Seen In Sequoia National Park

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Big news out of Sequoia National Park - condors are back.

JOHN NIELSEN: This is all just stunning to me.

CHANG: John Nielsen, a former NPR correspondent, is author of "Condor: To The Brink And Back--The Life And Times Of One Giant Bird."

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The condor is the largest living flying thing in North America, and it sounds like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONDOR GROWLING)

KELLY: That recording courtesy of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology.

CHANG: And the news some have been spotted in California's Sequoia National Park for the first time in 50 years is welcome because condors were so close to extinction.

NIELSEN: There was a time when there were none in the wild. They were all in captive breeding programs in zoos.

KELLY: The National Park Service broke the news about the bird's reappearance yesterday, saying they were seen back in May. The park waited a couple months to tell us to confirm the sighting.

CHANG: When their numbers dropped to just 22, the wild birds were rounded up. At first, they didn't breed. But eventually, they did and were released back into the wild.

NIELSEN: If you haven't seen a condor and you've only heard it described or you've only seen it in a zoo, one of the first impressions you get is that it's a really ugly bird (laughter). I mean, it eats dead things. You know, it pees on the walls of the caves it lives in, stuff like that. But when it flies, it's unbelievable.

KELLY: And John Nielsen says there is nothing like a sighting in the wild.

NIELSEN: Wind kind of roars through their feathers because they don't sneak up on stuff. They eat stuff when it's dead. This condor flew down to the base of the cliff that I was standing at the top of and caught the wind currents and flew straight up right past me, like, 10 feet away - this gigantic bird with a 9 1/2-foot wingspan. And it was this roar like (imitating wind).

CHANG: While John Nielsen says the news of a condor sighting is great, he warns the preservation effort does not end.

NIELSEN: They still have huge challenges ahead. The biggest one is probably lead shot in their environment.

KELLY: That's because when hunters shoot animals and leave the bodies behind, condors eat the animals and the ammunition, which can be fatal to the condor.

CHANG: So keep a lookout for the 300-plus wild condors thought to be at large in California and nearby states.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "ANIMALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.