- Condor Comeback by Sy Montgomery
Montgomery, Sy Condor Comeback; illus. with photographs by Tianne Strombeck. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020 [96p] (Scientists in the Field) Trade ed. ISBN 9780544816534 $18.99 E-book ed. ISBN 9780358330660 $9.99 Reviewed from digital galleys R* Gr. 4-7
The Scientists in the Field series' marquee author Sy Montgomery returns to take on, for her, an unusually domestic topic: the California condor. This massive bird, a member of the vulture family, was technically extinct in the wild in 1987, but eventually captive breeding programs allowed for releases, and now there are over 500 of the birds. That's still a small and precious population, and Montgomery shadows Dr. Estelle Sandhaus of the Santa Barbara Zoo as she and her team clamber up into the California mountains to track and give exams to the huge yet fragile birds. She also confers with Myra Finkelstein, an environmental toxicologist whose work confirmed that condors feed on animals killed by hunters and then suffer lethal lead poisoning, and Jacy Romero, a tribal educator with the Chumash Indians, a people with a long relationship with the condors. It's a wide-focus take on an environmental success, tempered with patience, the odd condor bite (Montgomery gets nipped helping out with the exams), and setbacks (the first young condors released into the wild were basically adolescent vandals), but ultimately it's a story of unusual triumph for a species so close to extinction. The book leans into the condor's not typically cute appearance, with vivid images that range from the comic to the majestic, and it's candid in text and pictures about the realities of scavenging and the fate of many birds. The book does a shoutout to vultures of all kinds, adding to this book's relevance even in areas far from California, and youngsters will be galvanized by the possibilities of this kind of scientific work and keen to find ways to join in. End matter includes tips of what readers can do, an excellent short bibliography, a list of online resources (including various condor cams), and an index.