California Condor

California Condor
California Condor


California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) are the largest flying land bird in North America. Condors are members of New World vultures, Family Cathartidae, and are opportunistic scavengers that feed primarily on large dead mammals such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, range cattle, and horses. Condors have a wingspan of 9 ½ feet, and can weigh up to 25 pounds as adults. Using thermal updrafts, condors can soar and glide up to 50 miles per hour and travel 100 miles or more per day in search of food. California condors are not sexually dimorphic like a majority of raptors, i.e., males and females are identical in size and plumage. Adult condors are primarily black except for bleach white feathers in a triangle-shape pattern beneath their wings (underwing covert feathers). These patches are highly visible when condors are flying overhead and are a key identification characteristic. Adult condors have pinkish-orange featherless heads, ivory colored bills, and the sclera of the eye is red. Juvenile condors are also mostly black with underwing coverts that are mottled gray in color also but triangular shaped like adults. Juvenile condors have dark colored heads until they are about 3 to 4 years old when the head starts to turn pink. The juvenile bill is black and changes to an ivory as the bird matures.

Condors are cavity-nesting species that require caves, ledges, or large trees in order to nest. High perches are necessary for roosting, as well as to create the strong updrafts required for lift into flight. Open grasslands or savannahs are important to condors while searching for food. In Arizona, condors are found at elevations between 2,000-8,000 feet, and the reintroduction site is located in the northern part of the state on Vermilion Cliffs
The Vermilion cliffs are rugged sandstone cliffs located on public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. These cliffs are located on the Paria Plateau and provide the necessary remoteness, ridges, ledges, and caves favored by condors. The Paria Plateau is typified by Great Basin Conifer Woodland, dominated by juniper (Juniperus spp.) and pinyon (Pinus spp.) Great Basin Desertscrub occurs along the Vermilion Cliffs and is dominated by sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) and rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.). Species diversity is low, with shrubs occurring more frequently than woodland or forest.

California condors are one of the most endangered birds in the world. They were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1967. In Arizona, reintroduction was conducted under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act that allows for the designation of a nonessential experimental population. Under this designation (referred to as the 10(j) rule) the protections for an endangered species are relaxed, providing greater flexibility for management of a reintroduction program.
As a result of the continued downward spiral of the condor population in the 1980's, one of the longest wildlife recovery efforts ever attempted began. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a captive breeding program in 1980, teaming with the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. In 1987, a controversial decision was made to bring all remaining condors (22 individuals) into captivity and the last wild bird was captured on April 19, 1987.

All hope for condor recovery was now placed on captive breeding programs, and the task was formidable. Because recruitment into the population is very low, captive breeding techniques were developed in which eggs are removed as they are laid, usually causing the captive condors to lay a second and sometimes third egg. The extra eggs are incubated and chicks are raised by caretakers using a hand puppet shaped like a parent condor head. The puppet prevents the young condors from imprinting on people. Condor chicks that are not raised by puppets, are raised by their parent birds. As a result of captive breeding, condor populations have increased dramatically from 22 birds in 1987 to more than 270 birds in 2005.

California Condor
HABITAT: As recently as the early 1800s, the California Condor occupied mountains along the Pacific cast from British Columbia to northern Baja California. By the mid-twentieth century, the population declined to a small population in south-central California. Through captive breeding, California Condors have been reintroduced to the coastal mountains of south-central California and the Grand Canyon area of northern Arizona. Condors prefer mountains, gorges, and hillsides, which create updrafts, thus providing favorable soaring conditions.
DIET: The California Condor’s diet consists of medium and large-sized dead mammals like cattle, sheep, deer, and horses in any state of decay. Condors may travel several hundred miles in search of food.
REPRODUCTION: Condors nest in a cave or cleft among boulders on a cliff or hillside. The female will lay the single egg directly on the floor of the cave. The egg is incubated for 54 - 58 days. The young condor learns to fly in about 6 months, but will stay with its parents for several more months. The extended breeding season prevents condors from breeding yearly. California Condors usually become sexually mature at 6 years of age.
NAME DERIVATION: The scientific name comes from the Greek word gymnast, meaning naked, and refers to the head; gyps is Greek for a vulture; and the Latinized word for California indicates the bird’s range. The name condor is from the Spanish word cuntur, and is the Inca name given to the Andean Condor. California Condors have also been called a California Vulture.
The California Condor is one of the most endangered birds. The population steadily declined to fewer than 25 birds, mainly due to shooting and poisoning. In the 1980s, the remaining wild condors were captured for captive breeding programs. By 1992, the first captive-bred California Condors were reintroduced in California.
  • California Condors are social birds and they spend a great deal of time feeding and roosting together.

NPCA/ California Condor
Threats: Loss of habitat, shootings, pesticide residue, lead poisoning, and collisions with power lines.
Survival: California condors are capable of reaching up to 60 years of age in the wild.

Normally, condors breed once every two years, producing only one egg. If the egg is lost, they might be able to lay another. The male and female take turns incubating the egg and, once it hatches, feeding the offspring until it learns to find its own food, which could take a year. Playful and inquisitive, condors roost in large groups and communicate with a combination of hisses, growls, and grunts as well as a system of body language.
Instead of flapping their wings, which can span more than nine feet from tip to tip, condors soar on wind currents. Like vultures, which are in the same family, they are scavengers, but instead of relying on their sense of smell they watch for other scavengers feeding on carrion.
Adult California condors are almost entirely black. Except for a few feathers, their heads and necks are mostly bare and include shades of pink, red, orange, yellow, and light blue, becoming more intensely pink when they're excited. It's impossible to distinguish the males from the females just be looking at them.
Ten thousand years ago, California condors lived on both coasts of North America, from British Columbia to Baja California in the West, and New York to Florida in the East. By about 1900, the condor population plummeted and was limited to southern California, due to many factors including loss of habitat, a low reproductive rate, poisoning, and shooting. Today, designated refuges and captive breeding programs help protect and restore the species.

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