California CondorScientific Name Gymnogyps californianus                      

Conservation Status Critically Endangered

Appearance

The body of the California condor is black except for a triangle of white on the underside of the wing. Around the base of the neck is a thick collar of black feathers. Their feet are coloured grey and the legs are pink. The head and neck is naked with colouration varying from gray to yellow and red. If they get it excited this will become more intensely coloured. The irises are brown.

Females are slightly smaller than males. On overage they measure from 1.09m-1.4m (43-55in). Wingspan averages 2.5-3m (8.2-9.8ft) with weight being between 7 and 14.1kg (15-31lb).

Lifespan                                                                                  

California condors may live for up to 60 years.

Diet

This species is carnivorous. Their main food source is carrion with cattle being their favorite. They will also seek out the carcasses of deer, goats, sheep, donkeys, horses, pigs, cougars, bears, whales, Californian sea lions, rabbits, weasels, gophers, foxes and coyotes. It is rare that they eat a bird or reptile. In the past most of their food came from American bison and pronghorns but these are now rare meaning they are not used as a food source as frequently.

Due to not having a sense of smell this species will look around for other predators to find a carcass. When arriving at a carcass they will displace common ravens and turkey vultures. In turn golden eagles and coyotes force them away.

Some California condors may go without drinking for up to two days. They prefer clean water but may drink from stagnant pools.

Habitat

North America is the native home of the California condor. In the past there is evidence that they were found throughout the Southwest and West coast. Now they are restricted to California, Arizonia and Baja California, Mexico where they have been reintroduced.

California CondorThey make their home on wooded mountains and in coniferous forests, oak savannas and the rocky scrublands. Often they will be found near cliffs and large trees where they can nest.

Reproduction

This species is monogamous and will mate for life. To attract a mate male condors perform a display during which his head will turn red and his wings spread out. With the neck feathers puffed out he will approach a female. In the event she submits to him her head will lower.

Once they are paired they find a nice cliff, crevice or burnt out tree where they can make a nest. This is not a nest in the conventional sense with only rocks being added as a substrate.

After a successful mating a pale greeny-blue egg is laid between mid-January and March. For the next 54-58 days the parents will incubate this egg. On average each parents sits for between 2 and 5 days before swapping. While incubating they spend most of their time sleeping.

If they lose an egg they may lay another. In captivity this is used to accelerate the breeding with one egg being artificially raised. This helped to increase the population of these birds quickly.

Chicks are born covered with a grayish down and their eyes already open. It may take 2 ½ days for the chick to break out of the egg after it first begins to break. Their head, neck, underwing and belly are bare meaning the parents will keep it warm.

Eight weeks after hatching they make their first trips out of the nest. After eighteen weeks they will begin to get juvenile plumage. Full plumage develops by 24-25 weeks old.

At 5-6 months old they will take their first flights.

By 8-9 months they will journey out on their own. Their parents continue to provide food throughout their first winter though.

Sexually maturity is achieved at six years old.

California CondorBehavior

The only major predators of the Californian condor are the golden eagle and humans. Golden eagles and black bears also prey upon young. Common ravens will sometimes take eggs.

This bird is diurnal and spends most of its day perching with some time spent hunting. While perching they spend most of their time preening with some time spent sunning.

When a mated pair is not looking after a chick they will fly together.

Vocalizations made by this species include hissing, grunting, hissing and a hiss-growl that chicks produce when threatened.

Near extinction and recovery

1982 saw just 21 birds found. US Fish and Wildlife, California department of Fish & Game, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park along with the Los Angeles Zoo decided to begin a captive breeding program.

In 1985 it was decided that all the wild California condors would be captured to join the breeding program. In 1987 the last one was captured meaning 26 birds were part of the breeding program.

By 1992 there was 52 birds in captivity and 2 of these were released into the wild with another 6 joining them later that year.

On November 5, 2003 the first chick to successfully fledge in the wild leaves the nest.

In 2013 the wild population had risen to 230 in the wild and 180 in captivity.

Quick facts

California condors have the lowest reproductive rate of any bird.

The California condor’s numbers fell to just 14 at one time.

Some Native American tribes call the California condor the thunderbird because they believe that the beating of these birds long wings produces thunder.

Photo Credits:

Top
Public Domain

Middle
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom
By Jim Bahn (California Condor) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons