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California Condor Gymnogyps californianus


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California Condor, note tracking tags on wing
credit: PhilArmitage

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Cathartidae, American Vultures view all from this family

Description Plumage is mostly black, but adult has white underwing coverts and white inner flight feathers on upper wing. Bald, red head is seen only at close range. Juvenile plumage shows less contrast than adult.

Dimensions Length: 45-55" (1.1-1.4 m); Wngspn: 8' 6"-9' 6" (2.6-1.9 m)

Endangered Status The California Condor is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered in California. This huge carrion-feeder has been declining since prehistoric times, probably because herds of large mammals became scarce in North America. By the 20th century its range had shrunk to a small area in the mountains north of Los Angeles. In the 1980s researchers discovered that some of the few surviving birds were dying of lead poisoning (contracted by consumption of animals killed with lead shot), and so all the remaining wild birds--five in number--were trapped and placed in zoos. Young birds have been reared in captivity, and reintroductions are being attempted, but it remains to be seen whether the effort to save the species from extinction will succeed. Approximately 50 captive-bred birds released in California and Arizona currently survive, but no California Condors are breeding in the wild. The "wild" condors undergo careful monitoring. Early released birds were killed by flying into power lines, so now the birds undergo a power-line aversion program. In 2000-2001 four birds died of lead poisoning and another dozen were treated for lead in their systems. Apparently the consumption of flesh contaminated by lead bullets is an ongoing problem, and the future of this species remains quite precarious.

Habitat Formerly extinct in wild; captive-bred birds now fly free in the Grand Canyon and at Big Sur, California.

Range California, Southwest

Discussion Unmistakable on account of immense size and silhouette in flight (the typical view). Recalls an oversized Black Vulture, with proportionately longer, broaderbased wings.