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Vednesday Vulture - Gymnogyps californianus Edition

This one came back from the brink!

The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is here with us today because of the hard work of conservationists whose efforts saved the species from extinction. Native to the west coast and southwestern portion of North America, their preferred habitat is tall cliffs or trees in coniferous forests, rocky shrublands, and oak savannas. Now they are most commonly found in southern Utah and northern Arizona, and can be spotted in Zion National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. This author has personally seen them in both places.


Adult California Condors have black plumage with white bands on the undersides of their wings. The feathery “collars” around their necks between plumage and bare pink skin is also black. The bare skin on their heads can vary in color depending on the emotional state of the bird, and can serve as a communication tool between individuals. Their body length ranges from 43 to 55 inches (109 to 140 cm). They can weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kg), and wingspan of an adult California Condor can reach almost 10 feet (3 meters), which is the largest wingspan of any North American bird.

The diet of the California Condor consists mostly of carrion, which they spot from high in the air. California Condors maintain extremely large ranges, and will travel 160 miles (250 km) in a day in search of food. The specific carrion depends on the particular bird’s territory, but will include deer, cattle, horses, pigs, donkeys, bears, mountain lions or sea lions. They often follow smaller avian scavengers to the carcasses to feed. Their primary competition at a carcass is the golden eagle, which is a little too big for them to intimidate away from the food. They often go days without eating, and then gorge themselves at their next opportunity.


California Condors reach sexual maturity at about six years of age, which coincides with when the bare skin on their heads turns from dark gray/brown to pink. Female California Condors will lay a single egg in the spring, usually nesting in high cliffs or on cliff edges close to roosting trees. Like the Andean Condor, if the first egg is lost, a mated pair will lay another in the same year. Usually clutches are spaced two years apart. Eggs hatch after about 60 days of incubation, with both parents taking turns. The chicks fledge and are ready to fly at six months, and stay with their parents until they are displaced by the next chick.


In 1987, only 22 California Condors remained in existence. These birds were captured with the approval of the U.S. government, and the California Condor Recovery Plan began in earnest. Led by the San Diego Wildlife Park and the Los Angeles Zoo and partnering with other zoos around the country, the captured condors were bred and raised in captivity in order to reintroduce mating pairs back into the wild to establish some geographically separate populations. California Condors had been hunted, poisoned and persecuted into near-extinction, and as of 2014 there were 425 living California Condors, 219 of which are wild and 206 still in captivity.


Source for all imaged used in this post.

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