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 )
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).
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
Sierra Juarez and San Pedro Martir pine-oak forests Habitat
This taxon can be found in the Sierra Juarez and San Pedro Martir pine-oak forests. The ecoregion is located in two mountain ranges in the state of Baja California, Mexico: the Sierra de Juarez and the Sierra de San Pedro Martir. Both mountain ranges belong to the physiographical province of Baja California, and constitute the northernmost elevated peaks of the Baja Peninsula. The mountainous range that descends into a large portion of Baja California becomes more abrupt at Juarez and San Pedro Martir; the eastern slope is steeper than the western. Altitudes range between 1100-2800 meters. The granitic mountains of Juarez and San Pedro Martir have young rocky soils and are poorly developed, shallow, and low in organic matter.
Dominant trees in the ecoregion are: Pinus quadrifolia, P. jeffreyi, P. contorta, P. lambertiana, Abies concolor, and Libocedrus decurren. The herbaceous stratum is formed by Bromus sp. and Artemisia tridentata. Epiphytes and fungi are abundant throughout the forests.
Characteristic mammals of the ecoregion include: Ornate shrew (Sorex ornatus), Puma (Puma concolor), Fringed Myotis bat (Myotis thysanodes), California chipmunk (Tamias obscurus), Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Coyote (Canis latrans), San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) and Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis).
Numerous birds are present in the ecoregion, including the rare Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), Pinyon jay (Gymnohinus cyanocephalus), and White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).
A number of different reptilian taxa are found in these oak-pine forests; representative reptiles here are: the Banded rock lizard (Petrosaurus mearnsi); Common checkered whiptail (Cnemidophorus tesselatus), who is found in sparsely vegetated areas; Coast horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum), often found in locales of sandy soil, where individuals may burrow to escape surface heat; Night desert lizard (Xantusia vigilis), who is often found among bases of yucca, agaves and cacti; and the Baja California spiny lizard (Sceloporus zosteromus).
The Pacific chorus frog (Pseudacris regilla) is an anuran found within the Sierra Juarez and San Pedro Martir pine-oak forests as one of its western North America ecoregions of occurrence. The only other amphibian in the ecoregion is the Western toad (Anaxyrus boreas).
California Montane Chaparral and Woodlands Habitat
This taxon can be found in the California montane chaparral and woodlands, a near coastal ecoregion in Central and Southern California, USA. This ecoregion is disjunctive, with a major element in Southern California and another along the Monterey County coast. The ecoregion encompasses most of the Transverse Range that includes the San Bernardino Mountains; San Gabriel Mountains; portions of the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains; Topatopa Mountains; San Jacinto Mountains; the Tehachapi, Greenhorn, Piute, and Kiavah Mountains that extend roughly northeast-southwest from the southern Sierra Nevada; and the Santa Lucia Range that parallels the coast southward from Monterey Bay to Morro Bay.
The California montane chaparral and woodland ecoregion consists of a complex mosaic of coastal sage scrub, lower chaparral dominated by chamise, upper chaparral dominated by manzanita, desert chaparral, Piñon-juniper woodland, oak woodlands, closed-cone pine forests, yellow pine forests, sugar pine-white fir forests, lodgepole pine forests, and alpine habitats. The prevalence of drought-adapted scrub species in the flora of this ecoregion helps distinguish it from similar communities in the Sierras and other portions of northern California. Many of the shared Sierra Nevadan species typically are adapted to drier habitats in that ecoregion, Jeffrey Pine (Pinus jeffreyi) being a good example.
Oak species are an important component of many chaparral and forest communities throughout the ecoregion. Canyon Live Oak, Interior Live Oak, Tanbark Oak (not a true Quercus species), Engelmann Oak, Golden-cup Oak, and Scrub Oak are some examples. Mixed-conifer forests are found between 1371 to 2896 meters elevation with various combinations and dominance of incense cedar, sugar pine, and white fir, Jeffrey Pine, Ponderosa Pine, and mountain juniper. Subalpine forests consist of groves of Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis), Lodgepole Pine, and Jeffrey Pine. Very old individual trees are commonly observed in these relict subalpine forests. Within this zone are subalpine wet meadows, talus slope herbaceous communities, krumholz woodlands, and a few small aspen groves.
In addition to these general vegetation patterns, this ecoregion is noted for a variety of ecologic islands, communities with specialized conditions that are widely scattered and isolated and typically harbor endemic and relict species. Examples include two localities of Knobcone Pine (Pinus attenuata) on serpentine soils, scattered vernal pools with a number of endemic and relict species, and isolated populations of one of North America’s most diverse cypress floras, including the rare Gowen Cypress (Cupressus goveniana goveniana) restricted to two sites on acidic soils in the northern Santa Lucia Range, Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) found only at two coastal localities near Monterey Bay, and Sargent Cypress (Callitropsis sargentii LR/LC) restricted to serpentine outcrops. Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) is also restricted to three coastal sites near Monterey Bay.
The ecoregion is also home to a few endemic or near-endemic mammalian vertebrates, such as the White-eared Pocket Mouse (Perognathus alticolus EN), a mammal known only to two disjunct mountain ranges in southern California: San Bernardino Mountains in San Bernardino County (ssp. alticolus), and the Tehachapi Mountains, in Kern, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties. The near-endemic fossorial Agile Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys agilis) is found in the southern disjunctive unit of the ecoregion, and is known only to the Los Angeles Basin and foothills of San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains in Ventura, Los Angeles, and Riverside counties north to Santa Barbara County and through the southern Sierra Nevada, including Mount Pinos, Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains, and northern San Fernando Valley. Non-endemic mammals found in the ecoregion include Botta's Pocket Gopher (Thomomys bottae) and Trowbridge's Shrew (Sorex trowbridgii). Some larger vertebrate predators can be found in the ecoregion, including Puma (Puma concolor), Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Coyote (Canis latrans), and Ringtails (Bassariscus astutus).
The ecoregion boasts five endemic and near-endemic amphibians, largely Plethodontid salamanders. Some specific salamander taxa found here are the endemic Tehachapi Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps stebbinsi VU), known from isolated sites in the Caliente Creek drainage, Piute Mountains, and Kern County, California along with scattered populations in the Tehachapi Mountains to Fort Tejon, Kern County; the near-endemic Blackbelly Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps nigriventris); the Monterey Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii); the Channel Islands Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps pacificus), endemic to a narrow range restricted solely on Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel islands; and the Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris), found only in California and Baja California. A newt found here is the Coast Range Newt (Taricha torosa). Anuran taxa in the ecoregion include the Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (Rana boylii NT); the Southern Mountain Yellow-legged Frog (Rana muscosa EN), a California endemic occurring in several disjunctive populations; and the Northern Red-legged Frog (Rana aurora).
The California montane chaparral and woodlands ecoregions contains a number of reptiles such as the Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum), who ranges from Northern California to Baja California. Also found here is the Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus); the Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis); the Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata); and the Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana). The Two-striped Garter Snake (Thamnophis hammondii) is a restricted range reptile found near-coastally from Monterey County, California southward to Baja California.
The California Condor once inhabited much of the ecoregion, with the western Transverse Range acting today as a refuge for some of the last wild populations, after considerable conservation efforts, especially in the Los Padres National Forest. The Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni NT) is found in coastal areas of the ecoregion.
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 and Ecology
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
California condors are extremely endangered. In the late 1970's, the species was reduced to a population of less than 25 birds. Scientists hoped to maintain a wild population but when the species continued to decline, every remaining individual was rounded up and the last wild G. californianus was captured in 1987. After several years of a successful captive breeding program in Los Angeles and San Diego, the first two condors were reintroduced to a California wild sanctuary in 1991. More than a dozen Condors have since been reintroduced but the mortality rate is high and the wild socialization of captive-bred birds has been difficult. More than 120 G. californianus are now living; the majority are still captive but there is a long term plan of continued breeding and wild release. The exact causes of California condors' rapid decline in the past decade is uncertain, although the species has been known to be threatened since the late 19th century. Factors contributing to the decline include poisoning, chemical pollution, loss of habitat and loss of food resources, as well as a historical problem of hunting and scientific over-collection.
Condors' consumption of poisoned bait meat, put out by ranchers and intended for coyotes, as well as lead poisoning from bullets in animals killed by ranchers, have been the reported cause of some condor deaths. The presence of pesticide DDT in condor habitats led to problems with breeding and brittle eggshells that further reduced the reproductive capability of these already slow-multiplying birds. The loss of habitat, erection of electrical and telephone lines in the habitats, and loss of prey populations have all also been damaging to the condors.
In the past, especially during the early European exploration of California, sport hunting and scientific collection of eggs and skins threatened G. californianus populations.
( http://www.peregrinefund.org/condview.html; Mountfort 1988; Schorsch 1991)
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: critically endangered
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2012Critically Endangered
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N1 - Critically Imperiled
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: Historically widespread in California, Oregon, Arizona, and Mexico, declined to extirpation in the wild by the 1980s; captive breeding increased the number of individuals and allowed releases; reintroduction efforts are in progress in California, Arizona, and Baja California, with limited breeding and fledging success; reestablishment of self-sustaining wild breeding populations is uncertain, in part because of environmental perils such as lead poisoning and trash ingestion that are difficult to manage.
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly vulnerable
Comments: Low breeding rate and slow maturation.
Date Listed: 03/11/1967
Lead Region: California/Nevada Region (Region 8)
Where Listed: Entire, except where listed as an experimental population below
Status: Experimental Population, Non-Essential
Date Listed: 10/16/1996
Lead Region: Pacific Region (Region 1)
Where Listed: U.S.A. (specific portions of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah)
Population location: Entire, except where listed as an experimental population below
Listing status: E
Population location: U.S.A. (specific portions of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah)
Listing status: EXPN
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Gymnogyps californianus , see its USFWS Species Profile
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of >90%
Comments: Over the long term, the species has declined greatly in range extent, area of occupancy, number of subpopulations, and population size.
Apparently the species was rare and declining even in the late 1800s. The population declined greatly between the late 1960s and early 1980s, though count data for that period are problematic. Population reached a low of 22 in 1982, when captures began to establish a captive breeding program. No individuals remained in the wild by the late 1980s. Since then the number of wild birds has increased to 235 (December 2012).
The population along the Central Pacific Californian coast also suffers from reduced eggshell thickness consistent with the effects of the breakdown compounds of the pesticide DDT, compromising reproduction in the wild (Burnett et al. 2013). Apparently restricted to this population, it is thought that this is linked to feeding on the carcasses of predatory marine mammals that had been exposed to the pesticide from a specific point source during their lifetimes (Burnett et al. 2013). The lack of additional DDT inputs suggests that these effects will reduce over time, though at present this is a further significant impediment to sustainable wild reproduction in this population. Ingested anthropogenic material was recently responsible for the deaths of two nestlings and strongly implicated in a number of other deaths. The dead condors were found to have swallowed glass fragments, wire, plastic cartridge cases, etc. (Mee et al. 2007). Two birds were shot in California in 2009. Both were alive as of April 2009, both being treated for lead poisoning (Anon. 2009). Puppet-reared birds may be more prone to exhibit problematic human-oriented behaviour such as tameness and vandalising property than parent-reared birds (Meretsky et al. 2000). However, there is no apparent difference in mortality between released birds that were puppet-reared and those which were parent-reared (Woods et al. 2007). In the early 1990s a number of captive-reared birds were lost owing to collisions with power-lines, but this behavioural problem has been addressed using a conditioning programme with fake power poles (L. Kiff in litt. 2005). The spread of west Nile virus is not anticipated to be a problem for the species as most birds are vaccinated (L. Kiff in litt. 2005). Overall survival of released birds has been high, although without the capture, treatment and re-release of lead contaminated birds it is like that rates of mortality in the wild still exceed sustainable levels (Walters et al. 2010, L. Kiff in litt. 2009).
Degree of Threat: Very high
Comments: Decline in wild population prior to 1987 was due to lead and cyanide poisoning (lead poisoning from ingestion of bullets in hunter-killed carcasses); shooting; removal from wild of eggs, young, and adults for captive breeding; and unknown causes.
Recovery of the California condor is constrained by the current anthropogenic causes of mortality, primarily lead contamination from prey shot with lead ammunition (Finkelstein et al. 2012, Rideout et al. 2012). Further, reproductive success has been hampered by the presence of microtrash in the environment and the effects of DDT/DDE in coastal populations, and exposure to lead in breeding adults may cause nest failure (USFWS 2013).
A large proportion of reintroduced condors and condor nestling have died from anthropogenic causes (e.g., collisions with power lines, ingestion of toxins). As of 2012, mortality from lead poisoning continued to be a significant threat. In California, chick mortality resulting from ingestion of anthropogenic material (trash) is a serious concern. In fact, Mee et al. (2007) concluded that junk ingestion has been the primary cause of nest failure in the reintroduced condor population and threatens the reestablishment of a viable breeding population in southern California.
CITES Appendix I and II. A large-scale, integrated captive-breeding and reintroduction programme, managed by the Peregrine Fund (at the World Center for Birds of Prey), Los Angeles Zoo, Oregon Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park is preventing extinction in the wild. The success of the scheme has seen an increase from one chick hatched in 1988 to an annual hatch of 25-30 birds in recent years (Wallace 2004). The genetic diversity of the population has been maintained through careful distribution and representation of founder genotypes at each captive-breeding facility and reintroduction site. Consequently the current population retains 99.5% of the likely heterozygosity of a wild panmictic population (Ralls and Ballou 2004). "Aversion training" to avoid powerlines and humans is practised (USFWS 1996). A total of 154 condors were released into the wild between 1992 and 2003 (Wallace 2004). Clean carcasses are provided for reintroduced birds to help prevent lead-poisoning, and community education programmes aim to minimise persecution (Wilbur and Kiff 1980, Anon. 1998). A huge step has been taken towards eliminating the threat of lead-poisoning with the signing in 2007 of the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act, which requires the use of non-lead ammunition within the species's range in California and was implemented in 2008. As of February 2009, 99% of hunters were compliant with the act. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is now distributing safer lead-substitute bullets free of charge to hunters within the foraging range of the condors; similar programmes are being initiated in California (L. Kiff in litt. 2005) and planned in Utah (Flagstaff 2010). Publicity measures include a website and near-weekly condor articles in local newspapers (D. Cooper and J. Grantham in litt. 2003). In 2008 an agreement was struck between the Tejon Ranch and five conservation organisations to preserve 240,000 acres of the 270,000 acre property as an open space in return for not opposing the development of the remaining land, providing a vast amount of foraging habitat for the condor (L. Kiff in litt. 2009). Legislation coming into force in early 2010 makes it illegal for persons to enter a U.S. national park with a loaded firearm (Toops 2009). Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor population trends. Continue the recovery plan to achieve two disjunct, self-sustaining populations of 150 individuals comprising 15 breeding pairs. Identify further potential release sites in southern New Mexico (Wilbur and Kiff 1980, USFWS 1996, Anon. 1998). Resume release programme in Mexico. Maintain and increase the productivity of the captive population. Continue releases of captive-bred birds. Maintain suitable habitat (USFWS 1996, Anon. 1998). Continue supplemental feeding (Walters et al. 2010). Continue and expand information and education programmes (USFWS 1996, Anon. 1998, Walters et al. 2010). Continue supplying alternative lead-free ammunition to deer hunters. Advocate strongly for a ban on lead ammunition and lobby the Fish and Game Commission to ensure legislation is passed. Encourage the USFWS to promote the elimination of lead ammunition on land administered by other government agencies. Promote parent rearing of offspring (Walters et al. 2010).
Needs: Lead hazard needs to be reduced if the probability of successful reintroduction is to be maximized (Pattee et al. 1990). In 2008, a new regulation went into effect in California requiring hunters to use only non-lead ammunition when hunting big game or coyotes in the endangered California condor's habitat.
California condor populations have declined sharply since the early
1900's. The estimated population between 1966 and 1971 was 50 to 60
birds. The population dropped to nine after some six to eight birds
died during the winter of 1984-1985, including members of four of the
remaining breeding pairs. As a result of this loss the United States
Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of California Department of Fish
and Game, the Los Angeles Zoo, and the Zoological Society of San Diego
agreed that the remaining population should be placed in captivity until
better protection could be afforded to wild birds. The last wild
California condor was captured on April 19, 1987 .
Many factors have contributed to the decline in California condor
numbers since the turn of the century. These include: (1) direct
mortality through shooting, capture, egg collecting, and poisoning; (2)
impairment of reproduction through pesticides, disturbance, and food
scarcity; and (3) declining habitat caused by urbanization, agricultural
development, changed ranching practices, and fire control .
Contaminants such as lead, organochlorides, organophosphates,
predacides, and rodenticides present a continual hazard to California
condor populations [21,22]. California condors ingest any poisons
present in the carcasses they feed upon. Even if concentrations of
poisons are not fatal to adults, they may kill chicks and immature birds
California condor reaction to human disturbance varies with the duration
and intensity of the disturbance and whether condors are nesting,
roosting, or foraging . Human disturbance normally will not cause
California condors to abandon their nests, but it may discourage them
from nesting in otherwise suitable habitat and may cause nest failure
due to frequent long absences. Nests are often found closer to lightly
used roads and intermittently used foot trails than to regularly
travelled routes or oil well operations . Roosting California
condors are readily disturbed by either noise or movement. Disturbance
late in the day may prevent roosting in that area that night.
Occasional major disturbances do not cause California condors to abandon
regularly used roosts, and they may adapt to general low-level
disturbances. California condors usually feed in relatively isolated
areas and usually leave if approached within 1,000 feet (300 m). They
seldom feed on animals killed on highways or in areas of regular
Habitat loss continues to pose a major long-term problem for California
condors. Conversion of rangelands to agriculture, home sites, gas and
oil developments, and other urban and industrial uses results in less
available suitable habitat .
The future of the California condor now depends on the success of the
captive breeding program and reintroduction of birds into the wild
[22,32]. The current recovery plan calls for the reestablishment of two
geographically distinct, self-sustaining wild populations, each
numbering 100 individuals [26,27]. As of summer, 1994, there were four
1-year-old captive-bred California condors living in the wild in the Los
Padres National Forest .
Possible future release sites include northern California, the Grand
Canyon, and Baja California [2,23]. According to Rea  the most
promising area for restoration of captive-bred California condors
appears to be the Grand Canyon. This prime habitat contains extensive
rugged terrain with open areas and strong updrafts. The inner gorge of
the canyon has relatively limited human disturbance .
Use of Fire in Population Management
reduce the chance of large, severe fires . Burning should be
deferred until nesting is completed in areas where impact to breeding
California condors may occur .
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The most valuble role of carrion feeders is the safe disposal of dead, decomposing and diseased animals, protecting human and animal co-habitants from ill effect. Adult G. californianus require up to 3 pounds of meat a day; a healthy population of such carrion eaters can have an important impact on removing diseased and rotting carcasses from the area.
Stewardship Overview: Continued releases and intensive management will be required to sustain and grow the populations into the future until the leading cause of mortality, lead contamination, is resolved in all three of the wild populations (Finkelstein et al. 2012).
Needed conservation actions include: development of effective responses to environmental contaminants, including lead, DDT/DDE, and microtrash; planning for additional release sites if found feasible and desirable; managing program growth and recordkeeping that results from the continued captive breeding, release, and management of condors in the wild; developing consistent and structured health, veterinary, and animal management protocols and standards (USFWS 2013).
A better understanding of habitat loss and the development of models to evaluate habitat needs for a future self-sufficient population will be important to the long-range independence of the population (USFWS 2013). Integral to understanding the habitat needs will be a better, more thorough, species-specific evaluation of the potential impacts of climate change (USFWS 2013).
The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is a New World vulture, the largest North American land bird. This condor became extinct in the wild in 1987 (all remaining wild individuals were captured), but the species has 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. Although other fossil members are known, it is the only surviving member of the genus Gymnogyps.
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 huge 3.0 m (9.8 ft) wingspan is the widest of any North American bird, and its weight of up to 12 kg (26 lb) 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 carrion. It is one of the world's longest-living birds, with a lifespan of up to 60 years.
Condor numbers dramatically declined in the 20th century due to poaching, lead poisoning, and habitat destruction. A conservation plan was put in place by the United States government that led to the capture of all 22 remaining wild condors in 1987. These surviving birds were bred at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the Los Angeles Zoo. Numbers rose through captive breeding and, beginning in 1991, condors were reintroduced into the wild. The California condor is one of the world's rarest bird species: as of October 2014 there are 425 condors living wild or in captivity. The condor is a significant bird to many Californian Native American groups and plays an important role in several of their traditional myths.
In an article titled: "Condors or lead ammunition? We can't have both" published by The Ecologist in January 2015, author Dawn Starin states: "Over 60% of the adult and juvenile deaths (that is, excluding chicks and fledglings) in the wild population have been as a result of lead poisoning." She continues: "Because condors have been known to live past the age of 50, do not breed until they are at least six years old, and raise only one chick every other year, their populations cannot withstand the mortality rates caused by this neurological toxin." According to epidemiologist Terra Kelly: "Until all natural food sources are free from lead-based ammunition, lead poisoning will threaten recovery of naturally sustaining populations of condors in the wild." The article also states: "The military doesn't use lead, and if that isn't a huge message I don't know what is."
The California condor was described by English naturalist George Shaw in 1797 as Vultur californianus. It was originally classified in the same genus as the Andean condor (V. gryphus), but, due to the Andean condor's slightly different markings, slightly longer wings, and tendency to kill small animals to eat, the California condor has now been placed in its own monotypic genus. The generic name Gymnogyps is derived from the Greek gymnos/γυμνος "naked" or "bare", and gyps/γυψ "vulture", while the specific name californianus comes from its location in California. The word condor itself is derived from the Quechua word kuntur.
The exact taxonomic placement of the California condor and the other six species of New World vultures remains unclear. Though similar in appearance and ecological roles to Old World vultures, the New World vultures evolved from a different ancestor in a different part of the world. Just how different the two are is currently under debate, with some earlier authorities suggesting that the New World vultures are more closely related to storks. More recent authorities maintain their overall position in the order Falconiformes along with the Old World vultures or place them in their own order, Cathartiformes. The South American Classification Committee has removed the New World vultures from Ciconiiformes and instead placed them in Incertae sedis, but notes that a move to Falconiformes or Cathartiformes is possible.
The genus Gymnogyps is an example of a relict distribution. During the Pleistocene epoch, this genus was widespread across the Americas. From fossils, the Floridan Gymnogyps kofordi from the Early Pleistocene and the Peruvian Gymnogyps howardae from the Late Pleistocene have been described. A condor found in Late Pleistocene deposits on Cuba was initially described as Antillovultur varonai, but has since been recognized as another member of Gymnogyps, Gymnogyps varonai. It may even have derived from a founder population of California condors.
Today's California condor is the sole surviving member of Gymnogyps and has no accepted subspecies. However, there is a Late Pleistocene form that is sometimes regarded as a palaeosubspecies, Gymnogyps californianus amplus. Current opinions are mixed regarding the classification of the form as a chronospecies or a separate species Gymnogyps amplus. Gymnogyps amplus occurred over much of the bird's historical range – even extending into Florida – but was larger, having about the same weight as the Andean condor. This bird also had a wider bill. As the climate changed during the last ice age, the entire population became smaller until it had evolved into the Gymnogyps californianus of today, although more recent studies by Syverson query that theory.
The adult California condor is a uniform black with the exception of large triangular patches or bands of white on the underside of the wings. It has gray legs and feet, an ivory-colored bill, a frill of black feathers surrounding the base of the neck, and brownish red eyes. The juvenile is mostly a mottled dark brown with blackish coloration on the head. It has mottled gray instead of white on the underside of its flight feathers.
The condor's head and neck have few feathers, and the skin of the head and neck is capable of flushing noticeably in response to emotional state, a capability that can serve as communication between individuals. The skin color varies from yellowish to a glowing reddish-orange. The birds do not have true syringeal vocalizations. They can make a few hissing or grunting sounds only heard when very close.
Contrary to the usual rule among true birds of prey, the female is slightly smaller than the male. Overall length can range from 109 to 140 cm (43 to 55 in) and wingspan from 2.49 to 3 m (8.2 to 9.8 ft). Their weight can range from 7 to 14.1 kg (15 to 31 lb), with estimations of average weight ranging from 8 to 9 kg (18 to 20 lb). Wingspans of up to 3.4 m (11 ft) have been reported but no wingspan over 3.05 m (10.0 ft) has been verified. Most measurements are from birds raised in captivity, so determining if there are any major differences in measurements between wild and captive condors is difficult.
California condors have the largest wingspan of any North American bird. They are surpassed in both body length and weight only by the trumpeter swan and the introduced mute swan. The American white pelican and whooping crane also have longer bodies than the condor. Condors are so large that they can be mistaken for a small, distant airplane, which possibly occurs more often than they are mistaken for other species of bird.
The middle toe of the California condor's foot is greatly elongated, and the hind one is only slightly developed. The talons of all the toes are straight and blunt, and are thus more adapted to walking than gripping. This is more similar to their supposed relatives the storks than to birds of prey and Old World vultures, which use their feet as weapons or organs of prehension.
At the time of human settlement of the Americas, the California condor was widespread across North America; condor bones from the late Pleistocene have been found at the Cutler Fossil Site in southern Florida. However, climate changes associated with the end of the last glacial period and the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna led to a subsequent reduction in range and population. Five hundred years ago, the California condor roamed across the American Southwest and West Coast. Faunal remains of condors have been found documented in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. The Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 19th century reported on their sighting and shooting of California condors near the mouth of the Columbia River.
The condors live in rocky shrubland, coniferous forests, and oak savannas. They are often found near cliffs or large trees, which they use as nesting sites. Individual birds have a huge range and have been known to travel up to 250 km (150 mi) in search of carrion.
There are two sanctuaries dedicated to this bird, the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary in the San Rafael Wilderness and the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in the Los Padres National Forest. These areas were chosen because of their prime condor nesting habitat.
Ecology and behavior
When in flight, the movements of the condor are remarkably graceful. The lack of a large sternum to anchor their correspondingly large flight muscles restricts them to being primarily soarers. The birds flap their wings when taking off from the ground, but after attaining a moderate elevation they largely glide, sometimes going for miles without a single flap of their wings. They have been known to fly up to speeds of 90 km/h (55 mph) and as high as 4,600 m (15,000 ft). They prefer to roost on high perches from which they can launch without any major wing-flapping effort. Often, these birds are seen soaring near rock cliffs, using thermals to aid them in keeping aloft.
The California condor has a long life span, reaching up to 60 years. If it survives to adulthood, the condor has few natural threats other than humans. Because they lack a syrinx, their vocal display is limited to grunts and hisses. Condors bathe frequently and can spend hours a day preening their feathers. Condors also perform urohidrosis, or defecate on their legs, to reduce their body temperature. There is a well-developed social structure within large groups of condors, with competition to determine a pecking order decided by body language, competitive play behavior, and a variety of hisses and grunts. This social hierarchy is displayed especially when the birds feed, with the dominant birds eating before the younger ones.
Wild condors maintain a large home range, often traveling 250 km (160 mi) a day in search of carrion. It is thought that in the early days of its existence as a species, the California condor lived off the carcasses of the "megafauna", which are now extinct in North America. They still prefer to feast on large, terrestrial mammalian carcasses such as deer, goats, sheep, donkeys, horses, pigs, cougars, bears, or cattle. Alternatively, they may feed on the bodies of smaller mammals, such as rabbits or coyotes, aquatic mammals such as whales and California sea lions, or salmon. Bird and reptile carcasses are rarely eaten. Since they do not have a sense of smell, they spot these corpses by looking for other scavengers, like eagles and smaller vultures, the latter of which cannot rip through the tougher hides of these larger animals with the efficiency of the larger condor. They can usually intimidate other scavengers away from the carcass, with the exception of bears, which will ignore them, and golden eagles, which will fight a condor over a kill or a carcass. In the wild they are intermittent eaters, often going for between a few days to two weeks without eating, then gorging themselves on 1–1.5 kilograms (2.2–3.3 lb) of meat at once.
Condors begin to look for a mate when they reach sexual maturity at the age of six. To attract a prospective mate, the male condor performs a display, in which the male turns his head red and puffs out his neck feathers. He then spreads his wings and slowly approaches the female. If the female lowers her head to accept the male, the condors become mates for life. The pair makes a simple nest in caves or on cliff clefts, especially ones with nearby roosting trees and open spaces for landing. A mated female lays one bluish-white egg every other year. Eggs are laid as early as January to as late as April. The egg weighs about 280 g (10 oz) and measures from 90–120 mm (3.5–4.75 in.) in length and about 67 mm (2.6 in.) in width. If the chick or egg is lost or removed, the parents "double clutch", or lay another egg to take the lost one's place. Researchers and breeders take advantage of this behavior to double the reproductive rate by taking the first egg away for puppet-rearing; this induces the parents to lay a second egg, which the condors are sometimes allowed to raise.
The eggs hatch after 53 to 60 days of incubation by both parents. Chicks are born with their eyes open and sometimes can take up to a week to leave the shell completely. The young are covered with a grayish down until they are almost as large as their parents. They are able to fly after five to six months, but continue to roost and forage with their parents until they are in their second year, at which point the parents typically turn their energies to a new nest. Ravens are the main predatory threat to condor eggs, while golden eagles and bears are potential predators of condor offspring.
Obstacles to recovery
In modern times, a wide variety of causes have contributed to the condor's decline. Its low clutch size (one young per nest), combined with a late age of sexual maturity, make the bird vulnerable to artificial population decline. Significant past damage to the condor population has also been attributed to poaching, especially for museum specimens, lead poisoning (from eating animals containing lead shot), DDT poisoning, electric power lines, egg collecting, and habitat destruction. During the California Gold Rush, some condors were even kept as pets. The leading cause of mortality in nestling condors is the ingestion of trash that is fed to them by their parents.
In addition to this, cattle ranchers who observed condors feeding on the dead young of their cattle assumed that the birds killed the cattle. This fallacy led to the condor's extirpation in some parts of the western United States. This belief was so deeply ingrained that the reintroduction of condors to the Grand Canyon was challenged by some cattle ranchers, who mistakenly believed that the bird hunted calves and lambs.
Unanticipated deaths among recent condor populations occurred due to contact with golden eagles, lead poisoning, and other factors such as power line collisions. Since 1994, captive-bred California condors have been trained to avoid power lines and people. Since the implementation of this aversion conditioning program, the number of condor deaths due to power lines has greatly decreased. Lead poisoning due to fragmented lead bullets in large game waste is a particularly big problem for condors due to their extremely strong digestive juices; lead waste is not as much of a problem for other avian scavengers such as the turkey vulture and common raven. This problem has been addressed in California by the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act, a bill that went into effect July 1, 2008 that requires that hunters use non-lead bullets when hunting in the condor's range. Blood lead levels in golden eagles as well as turkey vultures has declined with the implementation of the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act, demonstrating that the legislation has helped reduce other species' lead exposures aside from the California condor.
California Condor Recovery Plan
As the condor's population continued to decline, discussion began about starting a captive breeding program for the birds. Opponents to this plan argued that the condors had the right to freedom, that capturing all of the condors would change the species' habits forever, and that the cost was too great. However, the project received the approval of the United States government, and the capture of the remaining wild condors was completed on Easter Sunday 1987, when AC-9, the last wild condor, was captured. There were only 22 condors in existence, all in captivity.
The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan was to establish two geographically separate populations, one in California and the other in Arizona, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs. As the Recovery Program works toward this goal the number of release sites has grown. There are three active release sites in California, one in Arizona and one in Baja California, Mexico.
The captive breeding program, led by the San Diego Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoo, got off to a slow start due to the condor's mating habits. However, utilizing the bird's ability to double clutch, biologists began removing the first egg from the nest and raising it with puppets, allowing the parents to lay another egg.
As the number of condors grew, attention began to focus on releasing some back into the wild. In 1988, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service began a reintroduction experiment involving the release of captive Andean condors into the wild in California. Only females were released, to eliminate the possibility of accidentally introducing a South American species into the United States. The experiment was a success, and all the Andean condors were recaptured and re-released in South America. California condors were released in 1991 and 1992 in California, and again in 1996 in Arizona near the Grand Canyon. Though the birth rate remains low in the wild, their numbers are increasing steadily through regular releases of captive-reared adolescents.
The California condor conservation project may be one of the most expensive species conservation projects in United States history, costing over $35 million, including $20 million in federal and state funding, since World War II. As of 2007 the annual cost for the condor conservation program was around $2.0 million per year. However, nesting milestones have been recently reached by the reintroduced condors. In 2003, the first nestling fledged in the wild since 1981. In March 2006, a pair of California condors, released by Ventana Wildlife Society, attempted to nest in a hollow tree near Big Sur, California. This was the first time in more than 100 years in which a pair of California condors had been seen nesting in Northern California. As of November 2011 there were 394 individuals living, including 205 in the wild and the rest in the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Oregon Zoo, and the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. As of October 2010, the wild condor population in its name state of California reached 100 individuals, and 73 wild condors in Arizona. As of May 2012, the number of living individuals has reached 405, with 179 living in captivity. By June 2014, using data from the National Park Service, the condor population had reached 439: 225 in the wild and 214 in captivity. Official statistics from the October 2014 USFWS record an overall population of 425, of which 219 are wild and 206 are captive.
As the Recovery Program achieved milestones, a fifth active release site in Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park, Baja California, Mexico, was added to the three release sites in California (Big Sur, Pinnacles National Park and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge) and the Vermilion Cliffs release site in Arizona. In early 2007, a California condor laid an egg in Mexico for the first time since at least the 1930s. The population of the condors has risen due to these wild and also captive nestings. In the spring of 2009, a second wild chick was born in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park and was named Inyaa ("Sun" in the Kiliwa language) by local environmentalists. In 2014, Condor #597, also known as "Lupine," was spotted near Pescadero, a coastal community south of San Francisco. Lupine had been routinely seen at Pinnacles National Park after having been released into the wild at Big Sur last year. Younger birds of the Central California are seeking to expand their territory so this could mean that a new range expansion is possible for the more than 60 condors flying free in central California. Also in 2014 the first successful breeding in Utah was reported. A pair of condors, who were released in Arizona, nested in Zion National Park and the hatching of one chick was confirmed.
A crowdsourcing project called Condor Watch (CW) was started on April 14, 2014, hosted by the web portal Zooniverse. Volunteers are asked to examine motion-capture images of California condors associated with release sites managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Ventana Wildlife Society. The tasks on the website include identifying tagged condors and marking the distance to feeding sources such as animal carcasses. The project's frontpage explains that the California condor is a critically endangered species and that its population is suffering from the effects of lead poisoning. The frontpage also explains that by tracking the location and social behavior of the animals scientists can better detect early warning signs of the illness.
Condor Watch enables volunteers, or Citizen scientists, to participate in active research. The project has up 175,000 images to view and assess. This is far more than the CW science team could hope to view, and so are engaging Citizen scientists through their website to help tap into this wealth of information. Myra Finkelstein, the lead scientist and an adjunct professor of environmental toxicology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, stated: "Condors are unique in that they are so closely managed. One of the fun things about Condor Watch is that when you identify a bird it gives you a little biography about that individual." CW follows a long tradition of Citizen science being used in Ornithology, for instance The Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which began in 1900 and the Breeding bird survey which began in 1966. Some of the benefits of incorporating Citizen Science into ecological research are not only limited to helping collect data, but enable volunteers to gain experience in making observations, taking part in active research and perhaps developing a greater sense of stewardship over the populations they survey. The same can be true for the professional scientists taking part in the study. CW will improve the ability of condor biologists to identify birds that are at high risk for poisonings and develop better strategies for ensuring the species' successful recovery in the wild.
At the September 2014 meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union, the Cooper Ornithological Society and the Society of Canadian Ornithologists, held in Colorado, a poster presentation was shown by Condor Watch researchers, Dr. Daizaburo Shizuka (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) and Dr. Alexandra Rose (University of Colorado, Boulder). The title of the poster presentation was: "CONDOR WATCH: Improving management of one of the world’s most endangered species with Citizen Science." On the poster, some statistics are presented which give a clue as to the use and value of Condor Watch. Between May 1 and September 2014, the number of classifications made is: animals identified in photos (incl. non-condors) 1,048,576; condors found in photos 263,241; people participating ~8600; photos analysed by volunteers 183,179.
Relationship with humans
Throughout its historic range, the California condor has been a popular subject of mythology and an important symbol to Native Americans. Unusually, this bird takes on different roles in the storytelling of the different tribes.
The Wiyot tribe of California say that the condor recreated mankind after Above Old Man wiped humanity out with a flood. However, other tribes, such as California's Mono, viewed the condor as a destroyer, not a creator. They say that Condor seized humans, cut off their heads, and drained their blood so that it would flood Ground Squirrel's home. Condor then seized Ground Squirrel after he fled, but Ground Squirrel managed to cut off Condor's head when Condor paused to take a drink of the blood. According to the Yokut tribe, the condor sometimes ate the moon, causing the lunar cycle, and his wings caused eclipses. The Chumash tribe of Southern California believed that the condor was once a white bird, but it turned black when it flew too close to a fire.
Condor bones have been found in Native American graves, as have condor feather headdresses. Cave paintings of condors have also been discovered. Some tribes ritually killed condors to make ceremonial clothing out of their feathers. Shamans then danced while wearing these to reach the upper and lower spiritual worlds. Whenever a shaman died, his clothes were said to be cursed, so new clothing had to be made for his successor. Some scientists, such as Noel Snyder, believe that this process of making ceremonial clothing contributed to the condor's decline.
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: This species was transferred to Ciconiiformes (AOU 1998) but subsequently was tentatively returned to the order Falconiformes after re-evaluation of the reasons for the earlier change. Further, some genetic studies (Cracraft et al. 2004, Fain and Houde 2004, Ericson et al. 2006) indicate that New World vultures are not closely related to storks, although their precise phylogenetic relationship to the Falconiformes is yet undetermined (AOU 2007).
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