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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Soaring over large distances on their immense wings, condors search by sight for the carrion upon which they feed (5). Adults in captivity begin to breed at six to eight years of age (9), and pairs mate for life (5), producing one chick every two years (10). California condors, like many New World vultures engage in an unusual behaviour known as 'urohydrosis' in order to keep cool. This involves urinating on their own legs, which takes heat away from their body through evaporation; the cooled blood is then circulated back through the body (11).
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Description

The Critically Endangered California condor is a member of the New World vulture family (Cathartidae), and has an impressive wingspan of just less than three metres (5). The featherless head and neck are a reddish-orange colour; a few black feathers sprout from the head and there is a ruff of fine, glossy black feathers around the neck (6). The neck has an inflatable pouch, which is important in courtship (7). The plumage is black in colour with large white patches under each wing (6). Males and females are indistinguishable by size or plumage (8). Juveniles are grey and adult feathers do not replace this down until the age of five to seven months (6). Sub-adults retain a grey head until they reach maturity at five to seven years of age, when they acquire the full colouration of an adult (6).
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Distribution

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 )

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Range Description

This species declined rapidly throughout its historic range from British Columbia to Baja California during the 19th century and reportedly disappeared from outside California, U.S.A., in 1937 (Wilbur and Kiff 1980, L. Kiff in litt. 2009). The population had dropped to an all-time low of just 22 birds by 1981, and in 1983 eggs were first taken from wild nests for captive-rearing; in 1987 the species became extinct in the wild when the last of the six wild individuals was captured to join a captive-breeding recovery programme involving 27 birds (Wilbur and Kiff 1980, Toops 2009). Due to intensive captive breeding efforts the population increased to 223 birds by August 2003, comprising 138 in captivity, and 85 reintroduced in California and northern Arizona (L. Kiff in litt. 2003). Breeding in the wild resumed in 2002, and by February 2009 56 nesting attempts had been recorded, from which at least 19 chicks have fledged and survived (L. Kiff in litt. 2009). By December 2006, there were 130 wild birds at five release sites (L. Kiff in litt. 2006, Graham 2006), including at least 44 that were over six years old, the earliest age at which the species breeds (L. Kiff in litt. 2005), and in February 2012, the total population stood at 173 individuals in captivity and 213 in the wild, primarily in southern and central California (Carpentier 2009, C. N. Parish in litt. 2012). In January 2010, the number of released birds that had produced viable offspring stood at 44, with another 60 birds of breeding age (J. Grantham in litt. 2010).

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).

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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).

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Range

Formerly s California. ±132 birds extant in 1998.
  • 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/

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Former range - California condors once ranged over much of western North
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 [27].
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 [3].

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 [37]
and in and around Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
  • 3. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Scott, Virgil E.; Hamre, R. H.; [and others]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]
  • 37. Mefta, R. 1994 [pers. comm.]

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Regional Distribution in the Western United States

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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

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Occurrence in North America


AZ CA

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Historic Range:
U.S.A. (AZ, CA, OR), Mexico (Baja California)

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Range

The California condor was originally widespread throughout North America, but by the 1800s they were restricted to the west coast, from British Columbia to Baja California. In the 1970s only 30 individuals remained, all of which were confined to a small area of California (6), and on Easter Sunday 1987 the species became Extinct in the Wild when the last individual was taken into captivity (8). An extensive conservation effort has been undertaken to re-introduce captive-bred condors back into the wilds of California, Arizona and Mexico.
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Physical Description

Morphology

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

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Size

Length: 119 cm

Weight: 10104 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

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).

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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.

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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

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Its range includes rocky, open-country scrubland, coniferous forest and oak savanna. Cliffs, rocky outcrops or large trees are used as nest sites (USFWS 1996). It scavenges on the carcasses of large mammals and also feeds on the carcasses of small mammals, but perhaps only where there are sufficient numbers at one site (L. Kiff in litt. 2009). Released birds have become increasingly independent in finding food and may range more than 400 km from release sites (Anon. 1998).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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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.

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Preferred Habitat

More info for the term: cover

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) [3].

Nesting habitat - Nesting sites are characterized by extremely steep,
rugged terrain, with dense brush surrounding high sandstone cliffs [34].
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 [25] 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 [10]. Most
nest caves face either northeast or southwest [30]. California condors
do not defend a large nesting territory. Active nests have been located
within 1 mile (1.6 km) of one another [34].

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 [25].

Roosting areas - California condors require roost sites throughout their
range for resting and for protection during periods of inclement weather
[14]. They often have traditional roosting sites located near important
foraging grounds and breeding areas [27]. 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 [20]. California
condors commonly perch until mid-morning and return to the roost site in
the late afternoon after foraging [13]. However, it is not uncommon for
a California condor to stay perched throughout the day [27].

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 [27]. Atmospheric conditions suitable for
soaring generally limit California condor foraging activity to warmer
periods of the day [30]. 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 [20]. 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
[19].

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
[10].

Winter habitat - Winter habitat for California condors is the same as
the habitat used throughout the rest of the year [20].
  • 3. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Scott, Virgil E.; Hamre, R. H.; [and others]
  • 10. Koford, Carl B. 1953. The California condor. Nation Audubon Society Research Report 4. New York: Dover Publishing. 154 p. [Reprinted 1966]
  • 13. Lowe, David W.; Matthews, John R.; Moseley, C. J., eds. 1990. The official World Wildlife Fund guide to endangered species of North America. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, Inc. 3 vol. [23096]
  • 14. Mallete, R. D. 1970. Special wildlife investigation: operation management plan for the California condor. Project No. CAL W-054-R-02. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Fish and Game. 60 p. [23118]
  • 19. Ogden, John. 1985. The California condor. In: Audubon wildlife report: 388-399. [23110]
  • 20. Palmer, Ralph S., editor. 1988. Handbook of North American birds. Volume 5. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 463 p. [22303]
  • 25. Snyder, Noel F. R.; Ramey, Rob R.; Sibley, Fred C. 1986. Nest-site biology of the California condor. Condor. 88(2): 228-241. [23100]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]
  • 30. Verner, Jared. 1978. California condors: status of the recovery effort. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-28. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 30 p. [20666]
  • 34. Wilbur, Sanford R. 1978. The California condor, 1966-76: a look at its past and future. North American Fauna No. 72. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 56 p. [23094]

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Associated Plant Communities

Most nest sites known to be active since 1979 have been in a narrow belt
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 [27].

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 [34].

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)
[34]. 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 [34].
  • 15. Meretsky, Vicky J.; Snyder, Noel F. R. 1992. Range use and movements of California condors. Condor. 94(2): 313-335. [23098]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]
  • 34. Wilbur, Sanford R. 1978. The California condor, 1966-76: a look at its past and future. North American Fauna No. 72. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 56 p. [23094]
  • 40. Heady, Harold F. 1977. Valley grassland. In: Barbour, Michael G.; Major, Jack, eds. Terrestrial vegetation of California. New York: John Wiley and Sons: 491-514. [7215]

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Habitat: Ecosystem

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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

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Cover Requirements

California condor nest sites are located in areas that provide
protection from storms, wind, and direct sun [34]. 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 [27].
  • 13. Lowe, David W.; Matthews, John R.; Moseley, C. J., eds. 1990. The official World Wildlife Fund guide to endangered species of North America. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, Inc. 3 vol. [23096]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]
  • 30. Verner, Jared. 1978. California condors: status of the recovery effort. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-28. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 30 p. [20666]
  • 34. Wilbur, Sanford R. 1978. The California condor, 1966-76: a look at its past and future. North American Fauna No. 72. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 56 p. [23094]

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Habitat: Cover Types

More info on this topic.

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

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Habitat: Plant Associations

More info on this topic.

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
K033 Chaparral
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K048 California steppe

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Native to a wide variety of North American habitats, the condor is historically restricted to the Pacific coastline and inland to the Sierras (8). Inhabits rocky, open scrubland, coniferous forest and oak savannah (3). Nests have been recorded in rock cavities as well as in large Sequoia trees (3).
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Migration

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).

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Trophic Strategy

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)

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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).

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Food Habits

California condors do not kill their own prey. They feed on the
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 [10]. They also eat a variety of small
mammals including jackrabbits (Lepus spp.) and cottontails (Sylvilagus
spp.) [20]. 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 [36].

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 [22].
  • 10. Koford, Carl B. 1953. The California condor. Nation Audubon Society Research Report 4. New York: Dover Publishing. 154 p. [Reprinted 1966]
  • 13. Lowe, David W.; Matthews, John R.; Moseley, C. J., eds. 1990. The official World Wildlife Fund guide to endangered species of North America. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, Inc. 3 vol. [23096]
  • 20. Palmer, Ralph S., editor. 1988. Handbook of North American birds. Volume 5. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 463 p. [22303]
  • 22. Pattee, Oliver H.; Wilbur, Sanford R. 1989. Turkey vulture and California condor. In: Proceedings of the western raptor management symposium and workshop; 1987 October 26-28; Boise, ID. Scientific and Technical Series No. 12. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation: 61-65. [23097]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]
  • 36. Wright, Henry A.; Bailey, Arthur W. 1982. Fire ecology: United States and southern Canada. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 501 p. [2620]

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Associations

Predators

More info for the term: natural

California condors have no known natural enemies besides humans [27].
However, potential predators include black bears (Ursus americanus),
coyotes (Canis latrans), and ravens (Corvus spp.) [25].
  • 25. Snyder, Noel F. R.; Ramey, Rob R.; Sibley, Fred C. 1986. Nest-site biology of the California condor. Condor. 88(2): 228-241. [23100]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]

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Population Biology

Global Abundance

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).

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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.

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General Ecology

Variably social.

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Habitat-related Fire Effects

More info for the terms: cover, fire exclusion, shrub, shrubs, tree

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 [12]. 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 [4].

Periodic fire is instrumental in maintaining a relatively open
grass-shrub structure in chaparral communities [4], 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 [5]. Occasional
fire in chaparral can maintain a mixture of edge and grasslands,
improving habitat for small mammals several fold [36]. 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 [12]. Additionally, fire is an
important factor in maintaining the openness of oak savannahs [38].
  • 4. Dodd, Norris L. 1988. Fire management and southwestern raptors. In: Gliski, R. L.; Pendleton, Beth Giron; Moss, Mary Beth; [and others]
  • 5. Eastman, John. 1976. Lure of the burn. National Wildlife. 14(5): 10-11. [15745]
  • 12. Lehman, Robert N.; Allendorf, John W. 1989. The effects of fire, fire exclusion and fire management on raptor habitats in the western United States. In: Proceedings of the western raptor management symposium and workshop; 1987 October 26-28; Boise, ID. Scientific and Technical Series No. 12. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation: 236-244. [22324]
  • 36. Wright, Henry A.; Bailey, Arthur W. 1982. Fire ecology: United States and southern Canada. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 501 p. [2620]
  • 38. Griffin, James R. 1977. Oak woodland. In: Barbour, Michael G.; Malor, Jack, eds. Terrestrial vegetation of California. New York: John Wiley and Sons: 383-415. [7217]

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Timing of Major Life History Events

Age at sexual maturity - California condors do not breed until they are
at least 6 years old and often not until they are 8 years old [27].

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 [27]. 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 [13].

Clutch size and incubation - California condors lay only one egg [27].
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
[13,27].

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 [13].

Longevity - The average life span of California condors is 15.5 years
[30]. However, they may live to be 30 to 45 years old [27]. A captive
California condor at the National Zoological Park in Washington D. C.
lived for 45 years [14].
  • 13. Lowe, David W.; Matthews, John R.; Moseley, C. J., eds. 1990. The official World Wildlife Fund guide to endangered species of North America. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, Inc. 3 vol. [23096]
  • 14. Mallete, R. D. 1970. Special wildlife investigation: operation management plan for the California condor. Project No. CAL W-054-R-02. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Fish and Game. 60 p. [23118]
  • 19. Ogden, John. 1985. The California condor. In: Audubon wildlife report: 388-399. [23110]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]
  • 30. Verner, Jared. 1978. California condors: status of the recovery effort. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-28. Berkeley, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station. 30 p. [20666]

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Cyclicity

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).

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Life Expectancy

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
36.5 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
45.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 45 years (wild) Observations: On average, these animals live 15.5 years (http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/).
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Reproduction

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.

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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.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Gymnogyps californianus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank.

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.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNCTCTCTTAGGAGACGACCAAATCTACAACGTAATTGTTACCGCCCACGCCTTCGTAATAATTTTCTTCATAGTAATACCCATCATAATTGGAGGATTTGGAAACTGATTAGTCCCACTTATAATCGGCGCCCCTGACATAGCATTCCCACGTATAAACAACATAAGCTTTTGACTACTTCCCCCCTCCTTCTTACTCCTACTGGCCTCCTCCACAGTAGAGGCTGGAGCAGGTACAGGATGAACTGTATACCCCCCACTAGCTGGTAACCTTGCTCATGCTGGGGCATCAGTAGACCTAGCTATCTTCTCTCTTCACCTAGCTGGTGTGTCATCCATCCTAGGCGCAATCAACTTCATCACAACCGCTATCAACATAAAACCACCAGCCCTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCCCTGTTCGTATGATCTGTCCTCATCACCGCAGTGCTACTACTTCTCTCACTCCCAGTCCTCGCTGCTGGAATCACCATGTTACTAACGGACCGAAACCTAAACACCACATT
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Gymnogyps californianus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

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

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
CR
Critically Endangered

Red List Criteria
C2a(i);D

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Cooper, D., Grantham, J., Kiff, L., Palmer, B., Toone, W. & Parish, C.

Justification
After the removal of all surviving birds into captivity in 1987, an intensive conservation programme involving reintroduction and release of captive-bred birds has led to a tiny but increasing population of this species in the wild. However, the population in the wild remains dependent on intensive conservation management efforts. The species consequently qualifies as Critically Endangered.


History
  • 2012
    Critically Endangered
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N1 - Critically Imperiled

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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.

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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
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 detail:

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

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U.S. Federal Legal Status

Endangered [29]
  • 29. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2013. Listed animals. In: Environmental Conservation Online System, [Online]

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California condors are listed as endangered by the state of California [39].
  • 39. California Department of Fish and Game. 1990. State and federal endangered and threatened animals of California. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Fish and Game, Wildlife Protection Division and Wildlife Management Division. 13 p. [18827]

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Status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).
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Population

Population
There are currently 104 adults in the wild that are old enough to breed, and 44 have produced viable offspring (J. Grantham in litt. 2010). As mature individuals as defined by IUCN only includes individuals in the wild that are currently capable of reproduction, and re-introduced individuals must have produced viable offspring before they are counted as mature individuals, the current global population sensu IUCN is 44 mature individuals. The wild population currently numbers 231 individuals in total (California Condor Recovery Program 2012).

Population Trend
Increasing
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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).

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Threats

Major Threats
The drastic population decline during the 20th century is principally attributed to persecution and accidental ingestion of fragments from lead bullets and lead shot from carcasses (C. N. Parish in litt. 2012), resulting in lead poisoning. Lead poisoning remains a threat for released birds and has caused many fatalities and resulted in the treatment of many more birds (Anon. 2001, Parish et al. 2007, Walters et al. 2010); 9 of 13 birds released at the Pinnacles National Monument in California had to be recaptured and tested for lead poisoning after feasting on a field of squirrel carcasses shot by hunters using lead-shot in 2006. It is particularly prone to the threat of lead-poisoning owing to its longevity and delayed-onset breeding strategy, and given the distances it travels to forage, meaning lead can build up in the blood to dangerous levels over many years having been ingested over a broad area (Hunt et al. 2007). Shooting and accidental poisoning continue to be the principal threats to condors and at current levels threaten the long-term sustainability of reintroduced populations (Cade 2007), but lead ammunition is being banned within the species's range in California and there are increasing indications that the federal government will gradually phase out the use of lead across the U.S. Despite efforts to reduce the threat of lead-poisoning, it is reported that over 90% of condors released in Arizona still test positive for lead (Toops 2009) and in January 2010 three birds were found to have died from lead-poisoning in northern Arizona (Flagstaff 2010). A study conducted recently in California, using samples collected in 2004-2009, suggests that around one third of condors there are experiencing toxicological effects from lead ammunition (Finkelstein et al. 2012). Publicity and awareness raising campaigns appear to have successfully reduced persecution.

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).

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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.

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The original decline of the California condor followed the extinction of many large mammals in North America (5). Despite legal protection since 1900 (10), the 20th Century decline was due to human induced pressures such as trapping, shooting, egg collecting and lead poisoning following ingestion of carcasses killed with lead shot (2). Unfortunately lead poisoning still occurs regularly and remains the condor's greatest threat; other current threats include collisions with power lines, shooting, and both deliberate and accidental poisoning (12).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
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).

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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.

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Management Considerations

More info for the term: restoration

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 [26].

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 [16].

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
[13].

California condor reaction to human disturbance varies with the duration
and intensity of the disturbance and whether condors are nesting,
roosting, or foraging [27]. 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 [27]. 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
disturbance [34].

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 [22].

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 [37].

Possible future release sites include northern California, the Grand
Canyon, and Baja California [2,23]. According to Rea [23] 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 [23].
  • 2. Cohn, Jeffrey P. 1993. The flight of the California condor. Bioscience. 43(4): 206-209. [21066]
  • 13. Lowe, David W.; Matthews, John R.; Moseley, C. J., eds. 1990. The official World Wildlife Fund guide to endangered species of North America. Washington, DC: Beacham Publishing, Inc. 3 vol. [23096]
  • 16. National Audubon Society, Advisory Panel on the California condor. 1978. The california condor. Audubon Conservation Report No. 6. Washington, DC: National Audubon Society. 27 p. [Ricklefs, R. E., ed.]
  • 21. Pattee, Oliver H.; Bloom, Peter H.; Scott, J. Michael; Smith, Milton R. 1990. Lead hazards within the range of the California condor. Condor. 92(4): 931-937. [23114]
  • 22. Pattee, Oliver H.; Wilbur, Sanford R. 1989. Turkey vulture and California condor. In: Proceedings of the western raptor management symposium and workshop; 1987 October 26-28; Boise, ID. Scientific and Technical Series No. 12. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation: 61-65. [23097]
  • 23. Rea, Amadeo M. 1981. California condor captive breeding: a recovery proposal. Environment Southwest. 492: 8-12. [23113]
  • 26. Toone, William D.; Risser, Arthur C., Jr. 1988. Captive management of the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus). International Zoo Yearbook. 27: 50-58. [23102]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]
  • 32. Wallace, Michael. 1991. Methods and strategies for the release of California condors to the wild. In: AAZPA [American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums]
  • 34. Wilbur, Sanford R. 1978. The California condor, 1966-76: a look at its past and future. North American Fauna No. 72. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 56 p. [23094]
  • 37. Mefta, R. 1994 [pers. comm.]

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Use of Fire in Population Management

Prescribed burning may be used to improve condor foraging habitat and
reduce the chance of large, severe fires [27]. Burning should be
deferred until nesting is completed in areas where impact to breeding
California condors may occur [4].
  • 4. Dodd, Norris L. 1988. Fire management and southwestern raptors. In: Gliski, R. L.; Pendleton, Beth Giron; Moss, Mary Beth; [and others]
  • 27. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, California Condor Recovery Team. 1984. California condor recovery plan. [Revised]

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Conservation

Towards the end of the 1980s, with only eight individuals left in the wild, it was clear that the extinction of this bird was imminent. The remaining wild individuals were taken into captivity and incorporated into an intensive conservation breeding programme run by San Diego Wild Animal Park, Los Angeles Zoo and The Peregrine Fund (13). A variety of techniques were used in the breeding programme including double-clutching and the rearing of chicks with hand puppets, and in 1992 the first condors were released back into the wild (14). Numerous hurdles have had to be overcome, not least teaching captive birds to avoid power cables, but in the spring of 2002 the first wild condor chick for two decades hatched (13). The rescue of the Californian condor is an ongoing conservation programme but the successes so far have been inspiring and the population continues to climb (8); today the condor can once again be seen soaring over the rocky Californian landscape.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

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.

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Risks

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).

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Names and Taxonomy

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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Common Names

California condor
condor

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The currently accepted scientific name of the California condor is
Gymnogyps californianus (Shaw). It is in the family Cathartidae. There
are no recognized subspecies or races [1].
  • 1. American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Checklist of North American birds. 6th ed. Lawrence, KS: Allen Press, Inc. 877 p. [21234]

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