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A photo of a California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)
California Condor

California Condor

Gymnogyps californianus

The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is a majestic New World vulture and holds the title of the largest land bird in North America. This species, with its grand wingspan and hefty build, is a true icon of the avian world. The condor's plumage is predominantly black, accented with striking white patches beneath its wings. The head of the adult is nearly featherless, revealing skin that transitions from gray in juveniles to a vivid yellow or orange in breeding adults. With a wingspan stretching up to 3.0 meters (9.8 feet) and a weight rivaling that of the trumpeter swan, the heaviest of North American birds, the California condor is an impressive sight in flight. It is a scavenger by nature, feasting on carrion, and is known for its remarkable longevity, with potential lifespans reaching 60 years.

Identification Tips

When observing the California condor, look for its vast wingspan and black body contrasted with white underwing patches. The head is bald and can vary in color from gray to yellow and orange, depending on the bird's age and breeding status. In flight, the condor's wings are held flat with the primary feathers splayed like fingers, aiding in identification from a distance.

Habitat

The California condor is typically found in rugged terrain, favoring rocky shrubland, coniferous forests, and oak savannas. These birds require expansive areas with high perches for roosting and nesting, such as cliffs or large trees.

Distribution

Historically widespread across North America, the California condor's range has dramatically receded. Today, after reintroduction efforts, they can be seen soaring over northern Arizona and southern Utah, including the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, as well as the coastal mountains of California and northern Baja California in Mexico.

Behaviour

Condors are primarily soarers, using thermal updrafts to glide across the sky, sometimes reaching speeds of 90 km/h (56 mph) and altitudes of 4,600 m (15,100 ft). They exhibit a complex social structure, especially evident during feeding, where a clear pecking order is established. Condors are known for their meticulous grooming habits and frequent bathing.

Song & Calls

The vocal repertoire of the California condor is limited due to the absence of a syrinx, the vocal organ of birds. Their sounds are restricted to soft hisses and grunts, which are usually only audible at close range.

Breeding

Condors are monogamous and may mate for life. They prefer nesting in secluded caves or on cliff ledges. The female lays a single bluish-white egg every other year, which both parents incubate. If an egg is lost, the pair may produce a second egg as a replacement.

Similar Species

The California condor can be confused with the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), though the latter is not native to North America and has slightly different markings and longer wings.

Diet and Feeding

Condors are scavengers, feeding on a variety of large mammalian carcasses such as deer, cattle, and occasionally smaller animals. They have a keen eye for spotting other scavengers, which often leads them to food sources.

Conservation status

The California condor is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and Critically Imperiled by NatureServe. Once extinct in the wild, the species has made a remarkable comeback through intensive conservation efforts, including captive breeding and reintroduction programs. As of December 2022, the total population stands at 561 individuals, with ongoing efforts to ensure the species' survival and growth.

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California Condors on Birda

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