The Recovery of the California Condor

(Photo © Daniel Sachse/The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
The California Condor is the largest bird in North America. It can weigh nearly 22 pounds, and have a wingspan of over nine feet (277 cm), perfect for soaring through the air.  Condors age very well, and can live for more than 60 years. The oldest condor is 49 and still breeding successfully! Adult condors are black with big white patches under their wings, and if you are lucky enough to spot one, it will probably also sport a numbered identification tag.


(Photo © Mark Schocken/The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
You see, the California Condor is an endangered bird. This means it has a chance of going completely extinct. In fact, in 1980 there were only 22 of these spectacular birds left! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to capture all the remaining condors and breed them in captivity, in the hopes that they would make a comeback in a protected, secure environment.


(Photo © Jay Langford/The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
By 1987, all 27 remaining condors were captured. Although it was a controversial move to breed the birds in captivity, the program had huge success. Condors usually only lay one egg every year or two, but with the help of breeding techniques they laid up to three eggs per year. Human caretakers worked alongside the condor parents to raise chicks. The humans used hand puppets to ensure minimal human interaction!


Beginning in January of 1992, condors were reintroduced to California. Today, there are approximately 430 California Condors in the world, and roughly half of them live in the wild. They are still one of the rarest birds in the world.

(Photo © Chuck Burt/The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

A major threat to condors today is lead poisoning. This is usually the result of accidentally eating ammunition fragments in the carcasses of animals that humans have hunted. Luckily, important steps have been taken to eliminate lead-based ammunition. Additionally, conservation groups work to monitor and treat the birds, and supply lead-free carcasses for the wild birds to scavenge.

(Photo © Jeff Culler/The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
Scavenge, you say? Scavenging means that the condor doesn’t hunt, it eats animals that are already dead. California Condors will fly over 150 miles in search of carcasses to eat, looking for groups of other scavengers who have already found the meal. They scare off any smaller species, but are happy to eat alongside other condors. The condor’s baldness is an advantage. If they had feathers on their heads, cleaning up after dinner would be a lot more difficult!
(Photo © Nigel Voaden/The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology)


The Lab of Ornithology has a CondorCam so you can observe these amazing birds anytime. Check out the livestream or our favorite clips!

~Brigid Lucey

Your Guide to Attracting Birds this Summer #4

The weather is warmer and the days are longer, which means it’s the perfect season for some birding! Would you like to make your home more hospitable for birds? All it takes are a few simple steps.  Learn more in our blog mini-series, this last time about…


Although birds live in all types of environments, from warm to cool and urban to rural, there are threats that persist everywhere. Here are some tips to make your home a safe haven.

(Photo © loskutnikov)
  1. Use alternatives to chemical pesticides. Hungry birds looking for a snack may accidentally eat chemical pesticides. They are poisonous, and can harm or even kill birds.  Natural, non-toxic, easy-to-make pest repellents are just a Google search away! Try these to start.
  2. Keep pet cats indoors. It feels cruel to keep your pet cooped up inside, but cats are responsible for killing millions of birds every year, including fledglings and birds that make their nests on the ground. Additionally, you’ll protect your cat from predators, traffic, and feline fights!
  3. Reduce window reflections. Up to 100 million birds die from window collisions each year. Preventing these deaths can be a fun and creative activity! Stickers, silhouettes, and garland can help to break up the reflection and show birds they can’t fly through. An inexpensive trick is to draw on the exterior of your window with soap. There are many scientists investigating the best materials to prevent window collisions.
  4. Turn off your lights at night. Migrating birds, who sometimes fly all night long, could collide with a brightly lit window. Fatal Light Awareness Program is a Canadian organization that informs the public about this phenomenon.
(Photo © Capture Light)

Interested in learning more? This blog entry is an adaptation of Threats to Birds. You can also explore Why Birds Hit Windows, courtesy of All About Birds.

~Brigid Lucey

Cristóbal Bravo: The union between art and birds

Cristóbal Bravo is a professional graphic designer and independent artist from Vichuquén, Región de Maule. We recently had the opportunity to interview Bravo and learn more about his work and mission!

His love for birds began one day during a nature photoshoot in Laguna Torca, when he saw a pair of Siete-Colores caring for two chicks. Bravo dedicates 100% of his effort as an independent artist to illustrating birds. He uses watercolor and pencil to capture the essence of each bird. His love of painting began during high school, when he would create portraits and landscapes with oil paints, and he taught himself watercolor technique and hosted his first gallery showing on August 31, 2016, featuring birds he has spotted in the Laguna Torca National Reserve.

His mission? Bravo wants to promote awareness and care for the plethora of species in his community through art: “to be able to teach children and adults about the variety of birds we have, and how important they are to us.” In May, he hosted a presentation of his photographs and paintings for children, hoping the next generation will treat the sight and sound of birds as “a gift.” His dream is that people will protect and appreciate the beauty of birds, rather than hunt them or harm the environment.

Not only is Bravo successful in his own artistic achievements, but also in positive interactions with an audience. He says he is proud “when I see the faces of children and interested people,” or when he sees looks of surprise “when I tell them about the variety of birds they can find in their community, and Chile.”

Bravo has put aside his career as a graphic designer in order to dedicate all his energy to bird-related artwork. “I always ask myself why I do it,” he muses. “I do it because I am passionate about it, because I believe the world of birds is a grand one, and I would like to continue learning and teaching. Even though it’s a stretch to make a living, it makes me happy.”

He is the first in his region to professionally photograph and illustrate birds. His community has already learned a lot: with the help of products featuring his artwork, like magnets, booklets, and postcards, easier identification is possible. In addition to gallery showings, Bravo has also started offering birding tours.

Education is central to our mission here at Celebrate Urban Birds, and we are inspired by the work Bravo carries out in his community. Cristóbal, thank you for sharing your art and story with us, and good luck!

You can follow Cristóbal and learn more about his work on Instagram @torcailustracion or on

~Brigid Lucey



Your Guide to Attracting Birds this Summer #3

The weather is warmer and the days are longer, which means it’s the perfect season for some birding! Would you like to make your home more hospitable for birds? All it takes are a few simple steps.  Learn more in our blog mini-series, this time about…

Identifying your birds

American Blue Jay (Photo © Mircea C)
Your living space has now become an oasis for birds. With clean water and plenty of food, they’ll be back to visit often. As a matter of courtesy, you should learn your guests’ names! Sometimes, this is easy. Certain birds have unique appearances, like Mallards, Northern Cardinals, and Blue Jays. But other birds look alike, and it can be confusing and difficult to tell them apart.

(Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
This is where the Lab of Ornithology is here to help! We have resources on hand to make identifying birds easy.  You can learn fun facts, behaviors, habitats, and more on our Focal Species page.  Or, visit Bird Academy for educational and interactive games and videos.  If it is difficult to distinguish between lookalike birds, check out the Tricky Bird Identification Tips section of our website.  Additionally, the Lab offers the Merlin app that helps you identify birds based on their behavior, appearance, and location. You can read more about Merlin here.

At dusk, it’s tough to see birds clearly. That’s why birders learn the silhouettes of the species they’re likely to see. Often, shape is a defining factor in identification. Look at the length of the neck and tail, and the curve of the beak.  Listen, and you might hear a bird singing. Our focal species pages have a feature for learning the sounds that birds make. Sometimes they’re beautiful songs, but they can also be clicking or chattering.

Once you learn which birds are visiting your home, you can tailor your caretaking to make them the most comfortable!

Merlin: Easy Bird ID in the technological age

“What is that bird?”

We’ve all had a moment in which we wished we had a pocket field guide.  Merlin, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a free app for iOS and Android smart devices that helps identify birds in real time! It’s our hope that, like the wizard himself, Merlin will “magically” guess which bird you’ve seen.  We also drew some inspiration from the Merlin, which happens to be a small, speedy, and energetic falcon!

The magic of Merlin is rooted in hundreds of sightings by birders who uploaded their data and photographs to our eBird citizen science project.  That means we are able to continually update the app as more people use it to send in their sightings.  Once Merlin predicts your bird through location, time of day, appearance, and activity, it shows you a few photographs of potential matches.  

After selecting your bird, the app has a wealth of information to share about the species!  Another feature of Merlin is completely photo-based, so we’ll match your uploaded photograph to the species we have on record.  Interested in adding to our database? We’re always looking to increase our library of photos and audio recordings.

After identifying with Merlin, the eBird website or app (also available for iOS and Android) can track your sighting so you know where and when you’ve “collected” your birds.  

Merlin has information for a lot of species, so we’ve introduced Bird Packs that are more specific to region.  For example, in March we released the Yucatán Pack for the Península de Yucatán, México.  It also comes in Spanish, because birders speak many languages! Our goal is to make Merlin accessible worldwide, including an online version.  

Celebrate Urban Birds also benefits from this type of data collection.  Part of our mission is accessibility for birders of any level, especially beginners.  With the help of our Citizen Scientist network, we track the sightings of birds all throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Puerto Rico (so far), and pay special attention to a few focal species in particular.  Although we have printer-friendly identification guides, it’s always important to stay relevant and accessible through technology!  

~Brigid Lucey