California Condor
© Douglas Croft

California Condor

Basic Facts About California Condors

The California condor is the largest land bird in North America, and once dominated the western skies. Sadly, the species declined throughout much of the 20th century until only drastic measures saved it from extinction.

The California condor is one of our nation's most magnificent birds, with wings spanning an amazing nine and half feet! It is black in color with white underwing patches and a bald head with very few feathers. The color of the head varies from white to orange to reddish purple.

The condor’s bare head is an adaptation for hygiene since they eat dead and rotting meat and must, for the most part, stick their heads into the carcasses to feed. As unappetizing as this may seem to us, scavengers like condors are vital to the natural ecosystem.

Diet

Condors consume carrion (dead animal carcasses). They prefer the carcasses of large dead animals like deer, cattle, and sheep. However, they are also known to eat the carcasses of smaller animals like rodents and rabbits.

Population

The California condor population steadily declined during the 20th century until there were only about 22 known to exist in the world. The last of the free-flying condors were taken into captivity in 1987 in order to save the species from extinction. Efforts to reintroduce California condors began in early 1992, and continue to this day. Today, they can be found primarily in California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico.

Habitat & Range

California condors live in rocky, forested regions including canyons, gorges and mountains. They historically ranged throughout the western U.S. from Canada to Mexico, with some populations as far east as Florida and New York. The species’ current range includes California’s southern coastal ranges from Big Sur to Ventura County, east through the Transverse Range and the southern Sierra Nevada, with other populations in Utah, northern Baja California, Mexico, and in the Grand Canyon ecoregion in Arizona.

Behavior

Condors can soar to heights of 15,000 feet and may travel up to 150 miles a day in search of their next meal. They find their food mostly by their keen eyesight, as they have a poor sense of smell. Like vultures and other scavengers, condors are part of nature’s cleaning crew.

Reproduction

California condors most often nest in caves or crevices in rock faces, and tree cavities. Condors produce very few young and provide an extensive amount of parental care. The chick learns to fly when they are about 6 months old and stay with the parents for several more months afterward.

Mating Season: Winter - Spring

Gestation: About 56 days for egg incubation

Clutch size: 1 egg

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