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Frequently Asked Questions

147 flying with moon in background

Where do I go to see a California condor?  

There are currently 70 (number subject to change) free-flying adult and juvenile condors managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in southern California. They move frequently throughout their expanding territory, so they may not always be seen on or near the refuge.

The southern California population of condors range from as far as the Sierra Mountains to the north, San Gabriel Mountains to the south, Tehachapi area to the east, and Santa Barbara back country to the west.

The U.S. Forest Service maintains an observation point at Dough Flat in the Los Padres National Forest. Please contact the U.S. Forest Service Ojai Ranger District Office for more information on road conditions at (805) 646-4348.

The Dough Flat site is along the public access corridor of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in the Los Padres National Forest, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The driving time from Fillmore to Dough Flat is about 1 hour (13 miles). Be sure to take plenty of water and carry a spare tire in your vehicle. PLEASE note that the Sespe Condor Sanctuary (located on Forest Service land) is closed to public access. The road going to Dough Flat runs through a corridor which bisects the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. The public may access this corridor, but the Sanctuary to the west and east of this corridor is closed to the public.

From Los Angeles:

Take Interstate 5 (I-5) north to Castaic Junction (33 miles). Take the Ventura off-ramp and follow Highway 126 west to the town of Fillmore (19 miles). Turn right at the stop light on “A” Street and head north. You will come to a yield sign where “A” Street becomes Goodenough Road go right. Goodenough Road will end after 3-4 miles at a fork in the road, go right which takes you into the Sespe oil fields. Follow the road, being careful to stay on the main road , the side roads will take you to oil well pads. After 3.3 miles you will see the Oak Flat Station building (no longer Forest Service station) on your left and a condor observation sign indicating the number of miles to Dough Flat.

From Santa Barbara:

Take Highway 101 south to Ventura. In Ventura, merge onto Highway 126 go east to Fillmore about 20 miles. In Fillmore turn left at the stop light at “A” Street and then continue as above.

Remember that condors are wild, which means that there is no guarantee you will see one on a given day or at a given time. Please remember to stay out of areas that are marked as Closed to the Public to protect condors and other wildlife.

How can I tell the difference between a California condor and a turkey vulture?  

Condors and turkey vultures have a few key differences besides their size. If you see a bird in flight, look for the lighter area on the underside of the wings to help determine the species. Juvenile condors have mottled white feathers along the leading edge of their wings. Adult condors have bright white underwing feathers. Turkey vultures have a silvery area along the back edges of their wings. Because underwing markings cane be difficult to see, the way the condor holds its wings is often one of the best ways to identify it. In flight, condors tend to hold their wings flat and soar without any rocking back and forth. They do flap their wings, but not as often as other birds such as turkey vultures. Turkey vultures hold their wings in a slight "V" pattern, and will rock side to side in the wing. Their flight is often described as wobbly or unstable when compared to that of a condor.

The heads of juvenile condors are gray until they reach the age of 4-6, when their heads turn a pinkish orange. Adults have bright orange pick heads. Juvenile turkey vultures also have gray heads whereas the adults have bright red heads. Turkey vultures heads also look small in comparison to their body size.

Also look to see if the bird you see has a number tag on either wing. Condors will only have one wing tag but it can be on the right or left wing. The tag can be orange, red, yellow, blue, white, black, purple, or green with one or two digits.

Should I report a condor sighting?  

If you see a condor that is ill, injured, or engaging in potentially dangerous behavior such as feeding on a carcass possibly shot with lead ammunition or a carcass laying in the road, approaching people, drinking from deep water containers, or perching on artificial structures, please report the sighting immediately by calling 805-644-5185 ext. 284 or ext. 294. Please report the date and time of the observation, location and activity of the condor, and the numbers on wing tag if possible. Other helpful information: how many condors were present and the behavior of the other condors, whether other species of birds were present and engaging in the same behavior, whether the behavior was a first or has happened before, and how long the condor was present.

If you see condors that are not engaging in dangerous behavior, you are welcome to report those observations as well. Any condor sightings will help us keep track of their movements and activities. You can send an email to Joseph_Brandt@fws.gov or call 805-644-5185.

If you see a condor on your property, remember that although they are large, they pose no threat to humans, pets, or livestock. If you've been visited by condors on your ranch or property, please remember that state law may require switching to lead-free ammunition within condor range, as lead poisoning is one of the biggest threats to California condors in the wild.

Please feel free to contact us with questions about California condors by sending an email or calling one of the phone numbers listed above.

Last Updated: Dec 30, 2013
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