California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

California Condor

[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Cathartidae | [latin] Gymnogyps californianus | [authority] Shaw, 1898 | [UK] California Condor | [FR] Condor de Californie | [DE] Kalifornischer Kondor | [ES] Condor Californiano | [NL] Californische Condor


Monotypic species


Members of the genus Gymnogyps are immense vultures, having long and broad wings; a short, broad tail, and short legs adorned with long and coarse digits. Te plumage is mostly black, whilst the head and neck are bare and brightly coloured. The genus contains but one living species: Gymnogyps californianus of south-western North America. There is also fossil evidence from the Pleistocene era of a similar bird, perhaps a direct ancester of this species. There is no firm evidence to imply that this species is closely related to the Andean Condor Vultur gryphus

Physical charateristics

Much larger than the Turkey Vulture; adults have extensive white underwinglinings
toward the fore edge of the wing. Head yellowish or orange. Young birds are dusky-headed and lack the white wing linings, but are twice the size of the Turkey Vulture and have much broader proportions. The Condor has a flatter
wing plane when soaring; it does not rock or tilt. Many Golden Eagles show some white under the wing, but it is placed differently; the shape is also different.

wingspan min.: 290 cm wingspan max.: 310 cm
size min.: 109 cm size max.: 140 cm
incubation min.: 53 days incubation max.: 60 days
fledging min.: 150 days fledging max.: 180 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


North America : West USA. The California birds occur regularly in San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Ventura, Kern, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterrey, San Benito, and probably Santa Cruz counties. The Baja California birds are largely confined to the Sierra de San Pedro Martir. The reintroduction programme continues and has expanded its geographic coverage, with six birds released into the Sierra de San Pedro Martir in Baja California, Mexico in 2002


Wild open country, rugged hills. At one time, ranged over much of the West, from mountains and valleys to the coast. On its last stand in California, the condor fo
raged over open grassland and savannah, and nested in rugged mountainous terrain with forest and steep cliffs.


When displaying to his actual or prospective mate, the male California Condor holds the wings out, with primaries sagging vertically, tail unopened and dragging, his head bent down to present back of his neck and top of his head, body inclined, and bill held close to the brightly coloured bare patch on the lower part of his neck. He turns slowly from side to side, occasionally in full circle, in a swaying fashion. The display, which lasts no more than 30 seconds, may be repeated. The pair may then take wing and glide with flexed wings, the female in the lead.
Incubation takes over 50 days. The adults take turns incubating and foraging. One adult may be in the nest for about 20, or even as long as 46 hours, and either sex may spend the night in the nest. When a female returns from foraging she usually relieves her mate, but the male usually roosts overnight (more than a mile away) before doing so. The nest is occasionally left unattended, presumably when the bird goes to drink.
Apparently does not breed in the wild until about 7 years old. Nest:
Site is usually in cave or large crevice in cliff; sometimes in crevice among large rocks on steep slope, or in burned-out cavity in huge tree, such as giant sequoia. On flat bottom of cave, adult condors often make “nest” of stones, debris, gravel.

At first the chick is brooded by both sexes as constantly as the egg was incubated. When two or three weeks old brooding at night only commences and continues until the chick has its second, grey down at between five and eight weeks of age. During the period when the chick is brooded constantly it is usually fed once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Later it is usually fed once a day: a parent may feed it upon returning from foraging in late afternoon, or it may roost and then fly to feed the chick in the morning when the air has freshened. Hence food may be retained in the crop overnight.
A large chick flaps its wings and begs as the adults soar over; it may turn in a complete circle. The bright red distended crop of the adult may release feeding behaviour in the young chick. The adult lowers its neck with bill vertically downward; the chick pushes its bill into that of the parent and food is passed to it as the parent and chick pump their heads back and forward. Similar thrusting actions of the bill and neck are used by the chick when begging.
Nest situations usually permit the young to leave at about five months of age (before it can fly more than a few feet). The skill of soaring will take until it is almost a year old to acquire.

Feeding habits

Carrion. Prefers recently dead large animals such as deer or cattle. Formerly occurred often on coast, feeding on dead whales and other marine creatures washed up on beach.
Behavior: Generally forages only in warmer hours of day, spending morning and evening perched at night roost. Forages by soaring, often less than 2,000′ above ground, looking for carrion. May find much of its fo
od by watching actions of other scavengers such as vultures, ravens.

Video California Condor


copyright: Don DesJardin


After the removal of all surviving birds into captivity in 1987, an intensive conservation programme involving reintroduction and release of captive-bred birds has led to a tiny but increasing population of this species in the wild. The species consequently qualifies as Critically Endangered.
The drastic population decline during the 20th century is principally attributed to persecution and accidental ingestion of fragments from lead bullets from carcasses, resulting in lead poisoning. Lead poisoning remains a threat for released birds and has caused many fatalities and resulted in the treatment of many more birds. Up to about 10,000 years ago, California Condors ranged over a lot of what we now call the USA. By the 20th Century, they were only in central and southern California and northern Mexico. California Condors are one of the rarest birds in the world, due to shooting, lead poisoning, and other human-induced causes. By the early 1980s there were only about 20 condors left in the world, both in the wild and in captivity. It was clear that emergency action was necessary to save the species from extinction. In 1987, the last few wild condors were captured to ensure their safety and to serve as parents in captive breeding programs at the Los Angeles Zoo and The San Diego Wild Animal Park. This was a very brave action, as failure in the breeding programme would have meant that those bodies, so keen to preserve a species, had, in the end, caused its demise.
The first successful breeding of captive condors was accomplished in 1988, and by late 1995, the captive population had grown to 103 individuals. In January 1992, biologists involverd in the recovery program began releasing captive-bred young condors back into the wild at suitable sites in the species’ former range in California in the hope of re-establishing a self-sustaining wild population.
Additional condors are now being released on the Vermilion Cliffs near the Grand Canyon. These are the first California Condors to fly outside of California in 70 years. In 1997 the project passed an important milestone, there are now more California Condors in the wild than when they were removed from the wild in 1982.
California Condor status Critically Endangered


California. Formerly resident mainly in southern Coast Range from southeastern Monterey County to Northern Los Angeles County; also mountains at southern end of
San Joaquin Valley. Now gone in the wild except for captive raised and released birds. Most surviving birds are now in zoos in Los Angeles and San Diego. With the help of captive breeding, their return to the wild may be successful. Migration: No definite migration proven, but individuals were known to have moved long distances within the breeding range.

Distribution map

California Condor distribution range map

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