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 (USFWS 2003). A new release site in Baja was established in October 2003, and in December 2003 birds were released at another new site in California at the Pinnacles National Monument where one pair were observed raising chicks in 2009 (Moir 2009). Releases in New Mexico have been abandoned due to lack of funding, and release priorities have shifted to identifying sites and partnerships in southern Sierra Nevada, California (Chu et al. 2003). The regular movements of the Arizona birds are confined to Coconnino County (Arizona) and Kane County (Utah), although one individual wandered north to Flaming Gorge (Wyoming) and localities in Colorado before returning to the Grand Canyon area. 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 (L. Kiff in litt. 2006), where efforts are ongoing to increase the population to an anticipated carrying capacity of c.20 pairs (Wallace 2005). The first chick born in Mexico for over 75 years hatched in April 2007. It is hoped these birds will range widely enough to be effectively connected with birds in the southern U.S.A., and a bird from the Baja population was seen in San Diego County in April 2007. Currently 46 chicks have fledged in the wild since reintroductions began. Second generation birds have recently matured to breeding age, but no population can be deemed sustainable, and without substantial reductions in the use of lead-based ammunition within the condor's range none are likely to become so (Finkelstein et al. 2012).
Previously G. californianus was found in a range extending along the entire Pacific coast of North America. It is now restricted to central southern California. Fossil evidence indicates that California condors or their direct ancestors inhabited North America as far east as New York and Florida. (Greenway 1967, Koford 1953)
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) California condors were widely distributed in North America during the late Pleistocene era (approximately 50,000-10,000 years before present), with records from Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, New York, and Mexico. At the time of the arrival of Russian and Euro-American explorers, condors occurred only in western North America from British Columbia, Canada, to Baja California, Mexico, and inland to the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, with occasional observations farther east. California condors were observed in the Pacific Northwest until the early 1900s, and in Baja California until the 1930s. Source: USFWS (2013, which see for original literature citations).
By about 1950, the species was restricted to southern California prior to extirpation from wild in 1987, when the last remaining wild condors were removed from the wild for captive breeding. Reintroductions in California, northern Arizona, and the Sierra San Pedro Martir in northern Baja California have led to very limited renewed nesting in each area. Some of the birds released in northern Arizona range into southern Utah and rarely as far north as southern Wyoming and Colorado.
Range extent (extent of occurrence) is roughly based on the regularly used nesting and foraging areas as of 2012 (see map in USFWS 2013).
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
America, from British Columbia to northern Baja California and east to
Florida. California condors nested in western Texas, Arizona, and New
Mexico until about 2,000 years ago. Populations persisted in the
Pacific Coast region, especially in the Columbia Gorge area, until the
1800's, and in northern Baja California until the early 1930's .
Until 1985, when the last wild California condor was taken into
captivity, they were found in the Coastal Ranges of California from
Monterey and San Benito counties south to Ventura County, ranging, at
least occasionally, north to Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and east
to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the Tehachapi Mountains.
Breeding sites were confined to the Los Padres National Forest in Santa
Barbara, Ventura, and extreme northern Los Angeles counties .
Current range - Currently all California condors that have been
reintroduced into the wild from the captive breeding program are located
in Santa Barbara County on the Los Padres National Forest 
and in and around Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
3 Southern Pacific Border
Occurrence in North America
U.S.A. (AZ, CA, OR), Mexico (Baja California)
Individuals of this very large new world vulture are usually 46 to 55 inches from head to tail with a wingspan of up to 9.8 feet. While there is some sexual dimorphism - the male tends to be larger than the female - the size difference is minimal and data on sizes of the sexes overlap. An adult G. californianus has a distinguishing orange-red head and neck which is bare skin except for sparse black feathers on the forehead. The body is feathered in black with large white patches on the underside of the wings; a black feather ruff rings the neck. The sexes are alike in coloring and plumage.
Juveniles of this species are covered in gray down, which is replaced by adult plumage at 5 to 7 months of age. Even after full mature flying feathers are grown, a young California condor retains the dark gray color of its head for 4 to 5 years.
( http://www.peregrinefund.org/condview.html; Greenway 1967; Mountfort 1988; Koford 1953)
Range mass: 9000 to 11000 g.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Length: 119 cm
Weight: 10104 grams
Habitat and Ecology
California condors are found in southern central California deserts. Suitable permanant roosting sites must have rocky cliffs and rubble for nesting. The birds range over very large areas to find food but keep a home nest that they return to. ( http://diddl.tuwien.ac.at/~elcondor/bio-info.html. Greenway 1967)
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; chaparral
Habitat Type: Terrestrial
Comments: Usual habitat is mountainous country at low and moderate elevations, especially rocky and brushy areas with cliffs available for nest sites, with foraging habitat encompassing grasslands, oak savannas, mountain plateaus, ridges, and canyons (AOU 1983). Condors often roost in snags or tall open-branched trees near important foraging grounds (Matthews and Moseley 1990).
Egg deposition occurs on the floors of cliff cavities or caves, in crevices among boulders on steep slopes, or (probably rarely) in cavities in giant sequoia trees. Most nest sites are at elevations of 600-1,000 meters. Individual females generally change their nest site between successive nestings (Snyder et al. 1986, Palmer 1988); however, Merestsky and Snyder (1992) reported that nesting areas remained stable over the years.
California condors inhabit rugged canyons, gorges, and forested
mountains mainly between 985 and 8,860 feet (300-2,700 m) and nest
primarily between 2,000 and 4,500 feet (610-1,372 m) .
Nesting habitat - Nesting sites are characterized by extremely steep,
rugged terrain, with dense brush surrounding high sandstone cliffs .
Nests are often located in caves, crevices, potholes, and on ledges
located on rock escarpments. Occasionally, they occur in natural
cavities in the upper portions of large, living giant sequoia [13,19].
Contrary to previous assumptions, Snyder and others  found that
California condors modify their nest site by constructing substrates of
coarse gravel on which to rest the egg.
The main physical requirements for a condor nesting site are: location
in sheltered site, suitable roosting perches nearby, fairly easy
approach from the air, space enough to hold two full-grown California
condors, level area where walls are about 2 feet (0.6 m) apart, and
perches nearby for the young bird when it leaves the nest . Most
nest caves face either northeast or southwest . California condors
do not defend a large nesting territory. Active nests have been located
within 1 mile (1.6 km) of one another .
California condor pairs generally change nest sites in successive
reproductive attempts. Nevertheless, the majority of nest sites have
been used repeatedly, and California condors rarely appear to pioneer
use of new sites .
Roosting areas - California condors require roost sites throughout their
range for resting and for protection during periods of inclement weather
. They often have traditional roosting sites located near important
foraging grounds and breeding areas . Roosts located in breeding
areas are often on cliffs or trees, especially snags or bigcone
Douglas-fir. Roosts in the vicinity of foraging areas are usually found
on tall, open-branched trees rather than on cliffs . California
condors commonly perch until mid-morning and return to the roost site in
the late afternoon after foraging . However, it is not uncommon for
a California condor to stay perched throughout the day .
Foraging habitat - California condors require fairly open terrain for
foraging because they need a long runway for easy takeoff and approach
and so they can locate prey . Atmospheric conditions suitable for
soaring generally limit California condor foraging activity to warmer
periods of the day . Most foraging habitat is at lower elevations
than breeding habitat, although there is considerable overlap. Although
most known breeding sites are 20 miles (30 km) or more from principal
foraging grounds, the birds cover such distances quickly . Flights
between foraging and breeding areas characteristically follow major
ridgelines or proceed from one mountaintop to another. California
condors formerly foraged along coastal shorelines and rivers, apparently
using more varied habitats than they do presently. Current foraging
areas are almost entirely on private land used principally for ranching
Water requirements - California condors regularly drink from and bathe
in freshwater pools. Suitable pools must provide easy access and
takeoff, and be situated within a convenient distance of foraging areas
Winter habitat - Winter habitat for California condors is the same as
the habitat used throughout the rest of the year .
Associated Plant Communities
of chaparral and coniferous forests. Two nests were located in giant
sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) trees in mixed-conifer stands in the
Sierra Nevada [15,27]. Typical foraging sites are in grasslands or
oak savannah .
The principal plant species in nesting areas include several types of
ceanothus (Ceanothus spp.), live oaks (Quercus spp.), chamise
(Adenostoma fasciculatum), silktassel (Garrya spp.), and poison-oak
(Toxicodendron diversilobum). Interspersed with the brush are small
groves of bigcone Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa) and small
openings dominated by annual grasses .
In the recent past, California condor foraging areas in the Coast
Ranges, the Tehachapi Mountains, and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
included vast areas of open grassland dominated by introduced annual
grasses, particularly wild oats (Avena fatua) and cheatgrass (Bromus
tectorum) [34,40]. Some stretches were almost treeless; others had
scatterings of oaks and southern California walnut (Juglans californica)
. Nonbreeding California condors also occupied mixed conifer stands
in the higher portions of the Transverse Ranges. In the Sierra Nevada,
sites above 6,000 feet (1,800 m) were used for summer roosting .
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES42 Annual grasslands
protection from storms, wind, and direct sun . California condors
prefer to forage on ridges and in open areas with short vegetation so
they can easily locate prey and to ensure easy takeoff and approach
[13,30]. Carcasses under brush are hard for California condors to see.
They apparently cannot locate food by odor .
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
249 Canyon live oak
250 Blue oak - foothills pine
255 California coast live oak
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K005 Mixed conifer forest
K030 California oakwoods
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K048 California steppe
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
May forage 56 kilometers or more from roost or nest site (Koford 1953).
Sometimes ranges over 200 km in a single day (Meretsky and Snyder 1992).
Breeding pairs tend to forage most frequently within 70 km of nest, occasionally as far away as 180 km; nonbreeders forage more widely (Meretsky and Snyder 1992).
California condors are carrion eaters, primarily consuming large carcasses like goat, cattle, sheep, deer, horse and coyote, although they are also known to eat smaller food, such as rabbit and squirrel. Condors prefer fresh kills, but they also eat decayed food when neccessary. They may fly dozens of miles a day in search of food. ( http://diddl.tuwien.ac.at/~elcondor/bio-info.html; http://www.peregrinefund.org/condview.html; Greenway 1967; Mountfort 1988; Schorsch 1991; Koford 1953.)
Animal Foods: carrion
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Comments: Carrion; feeds primarily on a variety of small, medium and large mammal carcasses, including those of weasels, kangaroo rats, sheep, cattle, deer, ground squirrels, horses, coyotes, rabbits, etc. (Collins et al. 2000; Terres 1980). Apparently very few birds and reptiles are scavenged (Collins et al. 2000). May eat 1-1.3 kg of meat/day (Terres 1980). Prefers fresh meat. Feeds on ground. Requires fairly open terrain for feeding (to facilitate take-offs and landings). Regularly locates food by presence of eagles and ravens (Matthews and Moseley 1990).
carcasses of a variety of animals. Ninety-five percent of their food is
derived from domestic cattle, sheep, horses, and from ground squirrels
(Spermophilus spp.) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). They show a
preference for deer and calves . They also eat a variety of small
mammals including jackrabbits (Lepus spp.) and cottontails (Sylvilagus
spp.) . Small mammal bones are an important source of calcium for
California condors. Normally, the calcium necessary for egg production
comes from the bones of small animal carcasses .
Domestic cattle carcasses are a primary food source for California
condors and have become increasingly important as other prey species
have declined throughout the California condor's range [13,27,22]. In
the absence of supplemental feeding, changes in ranch management
practices which reduce or eliminate carcasses on open rangeland may
reduce the survival of the released California condor population .
California condors have no known natural enemies besides humans .
However, potential predators include black bears (Ursus americanus),
coyotes (Canis latrans), and ravens (Corvus spp.) .
1 - 50 individuals
Comments: As of the end of December 2012, the population consisted of 404 individuals, of which 235 were free-flying wild birds distributed among the five release sites in California, Arizona, and northern Baja California; of the wild birds, 129 were in California, 78 in Arizona, and 28 in Baja California (USFWS 2013). Only a small number of the wild birds are active breeders (12 active breeding pairs in California, 6 in Arizona) (USFWS 2013).
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5
Comments: The only extant occurrences are the few areas where the species has been reintroduced in California, Arizona, and Baja California.
Habitat-related Fire Effects
Fire may enhance California condor habitat by creating snags for future
roost sites and improving foraging habitat. California condors occur in
or have recently occupied the following five major fire-dependent plant
associations in the western United States: grasslands, chaparral,
ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), and
giant sequoia . In all of these communities, fire exclusion reduces
openings and increases shrub or tree cover. Fire exclusion also allows
fuels to accumulate which increases the potential for large, severe
fires. Large, severe fires may destroy roost trees .
Periodic fire is instrumental in maintaining a relatively open
grass-shrub structure in chaparral communities , which enhances
California condor access to carcasses. Additionally, fire may improve
habitat for small mammals, which are essential in California condor
diets. Many small mammals decline when ground cover is not periodically
reduced by fire, so California condors must feed on the carcasses of
larger animals. Since they cannot swallow the larger bones, they may
not be able to obtain sufficient calcium in their diets . Occasional
fire in chaparral can maintain a mixture of edge and grasslands,
improving habitat for small mammals several fold . Fire has
contributed to the maintenance of some grasslands by reducing woody
vegetation, while the exclusion of fire has resulted in encroachment of
trees and shrubs in those ecosystems . Additionally, fire is an
important factor in maintaining the openness of oak savannahs .
Timing of Major Life History Events
at least 6 years old and often not until they are 8 years old .
Breeding season - California condor pairs begin mating and selecting
nesting sites in December, although many pairs wait until late spring
[13,27]. The egg is laid between January and early April and is
incubated by both parents . The time required to complete a single
nesting cycle may be more than 12 months, so some pairs nest every other
year [19,27]. This pattern varies, however, depending on the abundance
of food and the time of year that the nestling fledges .
Clutch size and incubation - California condors lay only one egg .
The egg is incubated for 56 to 58 days [13,19,27]. California condor
will sometimes lay a second egg to replace an egg that is lost or broken
Fledging - California condors fledge at about 5 or 6 months of age but
do not become fully independent until they are at least 1 year old. The
parents sometimes continue to feed the chick even after it has begun its
own flights to foraging areas .
Longevity - The average life span of California condors is 15.5 years
. However, they may live to be 30 to 45 years old . A captive
California condor at the National Zoological Park in Washington D. C.
lived for 45 years .
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Comments: Often leaves roost 3-5 hours after sunrise, commonly returns to roost 2-5 hours before sunset; may not fly at all on foggy or rainy days. (Palmer 1988).
Status: captivity: 36.5 years.
Status: wild: 45.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Breeding in California condors begins at 6 years of age at youngest. A single egg is layed every other year by a breeding pair. On reaching full maturity, male G. californianus make courtship displays of outspread wings and head bobbing. After a female accepts a male's overtures, the birds form lifelong monogamous pairs. The incubation period is about 56 days and eggs are layed between February and April. Nests are found in cliffside caves or among rocky outcropping and clefts. Both parents care for the single egg and nestling. Young G. californianus remain with the parents for up to a year before leaving the nest; the young begin to fly at 6 to 7 months.
(Greenway 1967; Mountfort 1988)
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Average time to hatching: 57 days.
Average eggs per season: 1.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 2190 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 2190 days.
Egg laying occurs mainly in February-March (sometimes through early May). Lays clutch of 1 egg every other year, sometimes in consecutive years. Incubation lasts 8 weeks, by both sexes. Young fly at about 5-6 months, may be partially dependent on parents for up to a year. Sexually mature in 5-7 years, may live 45 years.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Gymnogyps californianus
Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.
Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Gymnogyps californianus
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2013Critically Endangered (CR)
- 2012Critically Endangered (CR)
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- Critically Endangered (CR)
- Threatened (T)