Basic Facts About California Condors
The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is the largest terrestrial bird in North America. It is black in color and sports a bald head with very few feathers. The color of the head varies from white to reddish purple. The bare head is an adaptation for hygiene since they eat dead and rotting meat and must, for the most part, stick their heads into the carcasses to feed.
© Scott Frier / USFWS
Condors mostly consume carrion (dead animal carcasses). They prefer the carcasses of large dead animals like deer, cattle, and sheep; however, they are also known to eat the carcasses of smaller animals like rodents and rabbits.
The population steadily declined during the 20th century until there were only 22 California condors known to exist in the world. The last of the free-flying condors were taken into captivity in 1987 to avoid additional mortality and to preserve as much diversity of the gene pool as possible. There were no California condors in the wild between 1988 and 1991, but reintroduction into the wild began in early 1992 and continues today. As of March 2007, there are approximate 279 California condors in the world, about 130 of which are free-flying in California, Arizona and Baja California, Mexico.
Did You Know?
The condor featured on the 2005 California state quarter.
The California condor historically ranged throughout the western United States from Canada to Mexico, with some populations as far east as Florida and New York. Current range includes California’s southern coastal ranges from Big Sur to Ventura County, east through the Transverse Range and the southern Sierra Nevada, with other populations in northern Baja California and Arizona.
Condors can soar to heights of 15,000 feet and may travel up to 150 miles a day in search of their next meal. They do not have a good sense of smell so they find their food mostly by their keen eyesight. Like vultures and other scavengers, condors are part of nature’s cleaning crew. Things could get pretty messy without the services of these important animals in the ecosystem!
Did You Know?
The skin of the Condor's head and neck is capable of changing noticeably in response to emotional state - like a mood ring! This helps condors communicate.
Gestation: About 56 days for egg incubation.
Clutch size: 1 egg.
California condors most often use caves or crevices in rock faces for nest sites. Instead of having many young and gambling that a few will survive, the condor produces very few young and provides an extensive amount of parental care. The chick learns to fly at about 6 months but will stay with the parents for many more months.