Condors have been imperiled for a century:
The California condor is the largest flying bird in North America, with a 10 foot wingspan that enables it to soar up to 15,000 feet - nearly half the height of a commercial airplane.
As Europeans settled the west, they often shot, poisoned and captured the condors, collected their eggs, and reduced their food supply of antelope, elk and other large wild animals. Their population declined steadily until only 22 remained in 1982, but a state-led recovery program has since successfully bred the animals back from the brink.
The condor is a remarkable species that has survived from the Pleistocene era (the time period that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago)
- California Condors are the largest wild birds in North America.
- The wings are exceptionally long and broad, with long primary feathers giving a fingered look to the wingtips.
- In flight the body is noticeably bulky, the head appears small, and the tail is short and broad.
- Adults are black with striking white patches under the wings.
- The naked head and neck are yellowish orange.
- Immatures have dark heads, grayer necks, and mottled grayish instead of clear white patches under the wings.
- Adult coloration is reached at 6-8 years of age.
- Condors are masterful soarers that rarely flap their wings.
- They have a solid, heavy appearance in the air, and don't get buffeted by the wind in the way that smaller soaring birds do.
- Condors are social birds that form groups around carcasses, at bathing spots, and at roosts.
- California Condors scavenge for carrion in habitats ranging from Pacific beaches to mountain forests and meadows.
- They nest in caves on cliff faces in mountains up to 6,000 feet in elevation.
Their size makes take-off difficult, leading them to use high perches for easier take-offs.
- Stretching 10 feet from wingtip to wingtip, California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) are the largest land birds in North America, and once ranged from British Columbia to Baja California and inland to the Rocky Mountains.
- Historical and scientific evidence suggests they once bred in the Pacific Northwest, yet the California condor has not been documented in Oregon for more than a century.
- Condors play a critical role in ecosystems by recycling nutrients and disposing of dead, disease-ridden animals.
- Known to some indigenous peoples as 'thunderbirds', they have long been revered by humans, but a confluence of pressures during the first half of the 20th century nearly drove them to extinction.
These majestic creatures historically ranged from California to Florida and Western Canada to Northern Mexico. 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 population to 410 birds.In 2008, the Recovery Program reached an important milestone, with more California condors flying free in the wild than in captivity for the first time since the program began.
- During the Pleistocene Era, ending 10,000 years ago, the condor's range extended across much of North America.
- At the time of the arrival of European settlers, the condor ranged along the pacific coast from British Columbia south through Baja California, Mexico.
- By 1940, the range had been reduced to the coastal mountains of southern California with nesting occurring primarily in the rugged, chaparral-covered mountains, and foraging in the foothills and grasslands of the San Joaquin Valley.
- Today condors are being reintroduced into the mountains of southern California north of the Los Angeles basin, in the Big Sur vicinity of the central California coast, near the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and in the mountains of Baja California.
- California condors require large areas of remote country for foraging, roosting, and nesting.
- Condors roost on large trees or snags, or on isolated rocky outcrops and cliffs.
- Nests are located in shallow caves and rock crevices on cliffs where there is minimal disturbance.
- Foraging habitat includes open grasslands and oak savanna foothills that support populations of large mammals such as deer and cattle.
- Condors are known to fly 150 miles a day in search of food.
Flying:This is North America's largest flying bird, weighing over 20 pounds.
A California Condor in flight is an impressive sight. With a nine-foot plus wingspan, the birds can stay aloft for hours, floating up to 15,000 feet on warm air thermals.
Slow to reproduce:
Condors can survive up to 60 years in the wild, but don't mature sexually until six or seven years of age and lay only one egg per year. Their slow maturation and reproductive process have been a factor in the bird's decline and near extinction.
As recently as 500 years ago, the California Condor could be seen across the American West, associating with huge herds of bison across the Great Plains.
Like all vultures, condors are carrion feeders, preferring large carcasses such as deer, cattle, sheep, and even whales. Where lead ammunition is used by hunters, it can become a major problem for the birds: Spent lead ammunition in gut piles continues to poison many of the reintroduced birds.
Reintroduction into the wild:Lead from bullets #1 cause of condor death:
The last of the free-flying condors were taken into captivity in 1987 to avoid additional mortality and to preserve as much diversity of the gene pool as possible. Reintroduction of condors into the wild began in early 1992 and continues today, with the population of more than 330 in the wild.
Lead poisoning from spent ammunition is the number one cause of death among adult California condors in the wild. Condors also pick up and feed their young small objects left behind by humans, such as pieces of glass and metal, and have been known to accidentally drink poison like antifreeze. Human development has significantly degraded or destroyed the habitat condors require for foraging, nesting and roosting.
It's the largest North American land birdCalifornia Condor:
- Classified as a New World vulture or condor family: Cathartidae
- It became extinct in the wild in 1987 when all remaining wild individuals were captured, but has since been reintroduced to northern Arizona and southern Utah (including the Grand Canyon area and Zion National Park), the coastal mountains of central and southern California, and northern Baja California in Mexico.
- Although four other fossil members are known, it is the only surviving member of the genus Gymnogyps
- The species is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered.It is one of the world's longest-living birds, with a lifespan of up to 60 years
- The plumage is black with patches of white on the underside of the wings
- The head is largely bald, with skin color ranging from gray on young birds to yellow and bright orange on breeding adults
- Its 9.8 foot wingspan is the widest of any North American bird
- Its weight of up to 26 pounds nearly equals that of the trumpeter swan, the heaviest among native North American bird species
- The condor is a scavenger and eats large amounts of decaying flesh of anything dead