The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), with a wingspan of 9.5 feet and weighing up to 25 pounds, is the largest land bird in North America. These majestic creatures historically ranged from California to Florida and Western Canada to Northern Mexico. By the mid-20th century, condor populations had dropped dramatically, and by 1967 the California condor was listed as endangered by the federal government. In 1982, only 23 condors survived world-wide. By 1987, all remaining wild condors were placed into a captive breeding program in an effort to save the species from extinction.
Since 1992, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began reintroducing captive-bred condors to the wild, the USFWS and its public and private partners have grown the total free-flying and captive population to more than 500 condors In 2004, the Recovery program reached an important milestone with the first successful chick hatched in the wild. In 2008, more California condors flying free in the wild than in captivity for the first time since the program began.
California Condor Recovery Program
The California Condor Recovery Program (Recovery Program) is an international multi-entity effort, led by the USFWS, to recover the endangered California condor. Partners in condor recovery include the Peregrine Fund, Ventana Wildlife Society, National Park Service, San Diego Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Santa Barbara Zoo, Chapultepec Zoo, Arizona Game and Fish Department, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, the federal government of Mexico, the Yurok Tribe, and a host of other governmental and non-governmental organizations.
The Recovery Program’s focus is the creation of robust self-sustaining populations across the species’ historical distribution. We are placing increased emphasis on captive-breeding to augment the wild population of California condors while working with the hunting and ranching community to reduce the threat of lead poisoning cause by spent ammunition, which is the primary cause of death in the wild and the biggest hurdle to sustainable wild populations.
The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to take steps toward recovery by establishing two wild, geographically distinct self-sustaining populations, each with 150 birds in the wild and at least 15 breeding pairs, with a third population of condors retained in captivity There are three active release sites in California, one in Arizona and one in Baja, Mexico. We’re working with National Park Service and the Yurok Tribe on a new release site in Yurok Ancestral Territory and Redwood National Park in Northern California.
How you can help California Condors
Use non-lead ammunition for hunting and/or dispatch of livestock. Lead ammunition fragments upon impact and, if consumed by a scavenger such as a condor, can result in lead poisoning, which is the number one known cause of death in California condors.
Never feed or touch a condor.
Pick up microtrash, or small bits of trash such as broken glass, bottle caps, can tabs and other smaller, broken-down pieces of trash that can be ingested by condors. Condors can ingest small items around homes and feed them to their chicks which can cause starvation, stunted growth and death.
Do not leave garbage or poisons such as antifreeze in the wild.
If you live in condor country, and condors are landing or causing damage to your property, spray water, yell, clap, and make loud noises to scare them away, or install a motion-activated scarecrow animal deterrent.
Condors are curious, and as they explore their environment, they may become entangled in loose wires, or tear at other materials with their beaks. Remove or prevent access to things that may attract condors, like open trash and recyclable containers, wires, seat cushions and drinkable water resources.
If you see a California condor, record the wing tag # and color, and email the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service California Condor Recovery Program at email@example.com.
Adult condors stand at 3 to 3.5 feet and weigh 17 to 25 pounds. Males are generally slightly larger than females.
Males and females are similar in appearance. Adult condors have a mostly bald head and neck. The skin of the head and neck is colored in shades of pink, red, orange, yellow, and light blue, and becomes more intensely pinkish orange during times of excitement and during the breeding season. Feathers are mostly black except for white underwing linings. Juvenile birds have dusky black feathered heads and bodies with limited white underwing linings. At hatch, chicks have light pink and orange skin and are covered in off-white down which is quickly replaced by gray down.
California condors have a wingspan of about 9.5 feet. Unlike birds of prey, condors do not have sharp talons capable of killing or grasping objects.
California condors use vast expanses of varying habitats for foraging, roosting, and nesting. Condors roost on large trees or snags, or on rocky outcrops and cliffs. Nests are located in caves and ledges of steep rocky terrain or in cavities and broken tops of old growth conifers created by fire or wind. Foraging habitat includes open grasslands, oak savanna foothills, and beaches adjacent to coastal mountains. With the right air conditions, condors are known to fly up to 250 miles a day across mountainous terrain in search of food.
Land on which the natural dominant plant forms are grasses and forbs.
A dense growth of trees and underbrush covering a large tract.
The land near a shore.
A landmass that projects conspicuously above its surroundings and is higher than a hill.
Environments influenced by humans in a less substantial way than cities. This can include agriculture, silvaculture, aquaculture, etc.
Condors do not kill for food; they are carrion eaters and feed on the carcasses of mammals including deer, marine mammals such as whales and seals, and cattle. A condor may eat up to 3 to 4 pounds of carrion at a time and may not need to feed again for several days. Condors find their food by sight or by following other scavenging birds. Condors normally feed in a group where a strict dominance hierarchy is followed. Dominant birds usually eat first and take the choicest parts of the carcass.
The condor's beak is long, sharp, and powerful. It can pierce the hide of a horse. Condors use their beaks to tear the flesh from carcasses, and to touch, feel, and explore their surroundings. Condors have been observed using their beak to remove foliage from trees to create better roosting sites and manipulating rocks and other objects in caves to improve the nesting area.
Condors are fastidious birds; after eating they bathe in ponds or pools and will spend many hours preening and drying their feathers. If no water is available, they will clean their heads and necks by rubbing them on grass, rocks, or tree branches.
Condors spend most of their time perched, sunning and preening. Condors roost where they can easily launch themselves into flight with just a few wing beats. Roost sites include large trees, snags, cliffs, and rocky outcrops. Condors will often roost in groups and will return to the same roost sites year after year. Dominant birds often take the choice position in a group roost.
California condors can soar on warm thermal updrafts for hours, reaching speeds of more than 55 miles per hour and altitudes of 15,000 feet. Flights in excess of 250 miles in a day have been recorded. Condors hold their wings in a horizontal position and fly very steadily, unlike turkey vultures which fly with their wings held in a V-shape and appear to be unsteady or "wobbly."
Condors are highly intelligent, social birds. They are inquisitive and often engage in play, especially immature birds. They will entertain themselves at length with feathers, sticks, and grass, often playing tug-of-war, and tossing, chasing, and retrieving the objects. This activity is especially pronounced around water holes.
California condors reach sexual maturity when they are 5 to 7 years of age. The male condor repeatedly performs highly ritualized courtship displays to the female, standing with his wings partially held out, head down, and neck arched forward; he turns slowly around, rocking from side to side. Graceful acrobatic flights, where one partner follows the other, are also performed by the pair. Condor pairs stay together over successive seasons. However, if one partner is lost, a new partner will be sought.
Nests are usually placed in caves on the face of steep cliffs or trunks of broken old growth conifers such as coastal redwoods and historically giant sequoia trees. No nesting material is added.
The female lays a single pale aqua-colored egg, which initially weighs approximately 280 grams (10 ounces) and generally measures 110 x 67 mm (4.4 x 2.7 inches). If an egg is lost to breakage or predators early enough in the breeding season, the pair will often produce a replacement egg in 4 to 5 weeks, a practice known as "double clutching."
Parents alternate incubating the egg, each often staying with the egg for up to several days at a time. The egg hatches after 54 to 58 days of incubation. The parents share duties in feeding and brooding (warming) the chick. Chicks are fed partially digested food regurgitated from the adult's crop. Flight feathers are fully developed at about six months of age. The chick is dependent on its parents for one to two years as it learns to forage and feed on its own in the wild.
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