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New World Vultures: Cathartidae

California Condor (gymnogyps Californianus): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: The California condor is one of the largest birds in North America and one of the rarest. They have black feathers except for a triangle of white under each wing. Adults also have red heads and necks and "collars" of fluffy black feathers at the bottom of its neck. California condors are between 46 and 53 inches (117 and 134 centimeters) long from their beaks to the end of their tails, and they weigh from 17 to 24 pounds (7.7 to 10.9 kilograms).

Geographic range: The last of the wild California condors were captured in 1987 in order to keep them from going extinct, dying out, and so they could be raised in captivity. So far, the birds have The last of the wild California condors were captured in 1987 in order to keep them from going extinct, dying out, and so they could be raised in captivity. So far, the birds have been returned to the wild in the mountains of California, Arizona, Utah, and in Mexico just south of the border. (© Kenneth W. Fink/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.) been returned to the wild in the mountains of California, Arizona, Utah, and in Mexico just south of the border.

Habitat: California condors roost and nest in mountains where strong winds allow them to fly long distances. They search for carcasses in open areas such as grasslands and beaches.

Diet: Not only do California condors eat the carcasses of wild land mammals and farm animals, but they also look for dead ocean animals along the seashore. With their large, powerful beaks they are able to tear open the thick skins of these animals.

Behavior and reproduction: California condors are curious birds, and they often find food by watching what other species are doing. Condors can travel hundreds of miles in a single day in search of food. At the age of five or six years, they find for a mate for life. The female lays one egg every other year in a cave or on a cliff ledge. Both parents incubate, sit on and warm the egg, which hatches after about fifty-six days. The parents care for the young bird long after it learns to fly at the age of six months.

California condors and people: Before Europeans came to America, Native Americans along the California and Oregon coasts admired California condors and honored them in stories and art. They also used the birds' feathers and bones for ceremonies. As Europeans started to settle in the west, they shot, trapped, and poisoned condors because they thought the birds killed young farm animals. By the late twentieth century people realized that this was not true, but it was almost too late to save the birds from extinction.

Conservation status: California condors are listed as Critically Endangered. In 1987, all wild condors were captured to prevent them from going extinct. By the year 2004, breeding programs had increased the California condor population to more than 200, and about half of the population had been released back into the wild. ∎



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Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsNew World Vultures: Cathartidae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, King Vulture (sarcoramphus Papa): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, NEW WORLD VULTURES AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS