- A-Z Animals
The California condor, a species of New World vultures, is the largest land bird in North America. Known for its enormous wings and extraordinary eyesight, the California condor can soar at great heights and spot animal carcasses when gliding in the sky. It is one of the rarest bird species since there are only 488 California condors living in the wild or captivity as of 2018. The Native Americans living in California has always considered the condor as a sacred bird that plays a significant role in many of their traditional myths.
Size: Their overall length varies between 43 and 55 inches (3.5 and 4.5 feet)
Wingspan: The wings are large and broad with long finger-like structures; their wingspan ranges from 98 to 120 inches (8.2 to 10 feet)
Weight: Their average body mass ranges between 8 and 9 kg (18 and 20 lb), but they could weigh up to 14 kg (31 lb)
Color: They have a uniform black body, with triangular white patches on the underside of their wings, an ivory-colored bill, brownish-red eyes, extra black feathers at the base of the neck, gray legs, and yellowish or reddish-orange head and neck.
Body: Their body is conspicuously bulky, the tail is broad and short, and the head looks small when they are in flight
Toes: The middle toe is elongated while the hind toe is developed to some extent
The present population of California condors is found in northern Arizona (including the region around Grand Canyon), coastal mountainous regions of central as well as southern California, northern Baja California, and southern Utah (comprising the Zion National Park).
These magnificent condors inhabit the coniferous forests, oak savanna, and rocky shrublands. These birds are typically found on large trees or near cliffs where they build their nests. Two sanctuaries – the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary have been specifically dedicated to this species.
California condors can live for up to 45-80 years, with an average lifespan of about 60 years. This long lifespan is attributed to the fact that a condor has very few natural enemies other than humans.
Being scavengers, California condors consume carrion. They prefer feasting on large, terrestrial animal carcasses like goats, deer, donkeys, horses, sheep, cougars, cattle, or bears. They may also eat small mammalian carcasses, including coyotes and rabbits, as well as bodies of aquatic mammals like California sea lions and whales, or fish such as salmon.
California condors start looking for a mate after they become sexually mature at six years of age. To attract a female, the male bird performs courtship displays by spreading its wings and bobbing its head. A female then lowers its head to indicate that it has accepted the male as its breeding partner. The birds then form a monogamous pair, becoming mates for life.
The pair builds a nest on cliff clefts or in caves that are located near open spaces and roosting trees. A female condor lays a bluish-white egg between January and April, every alternate year. The egg is about 90-120 mm (3.5-4.7 in) long and approximately 67 mm (2.63 in) thick, with a weight of about 280 grams. It hatches after an incubation period of 53-60 days. Although the nestlings are ready to take their first flight after 5-6 months of age, they continue to forage and roost with their parent until they are two years old.
Chicks emerge from their eggs with the eyes open and can take up to 14 days to completely leave the shell. The baby condors are covered with grayish down feathers until they become almost the same size as their parents.
The population of condors radically declined during the 20th century because of habitat destruction, poaching, and lead poisoning. The US government approved a recovery and conservation project that initiated the capture of all the surviving wild condors. This process continued until 1987, with the total population recovered from the wild being 27. These individuals were bred in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. As the numbers started increasing, the condors were again sent back to the wild in 1991. Although its population has increased, the California condor is still a rare bird species. It has been listed as Critically Endangered species by the IUCN.