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California Condor
Gymnogyps californianus

Accipitriforme Order – Cathartidae Family

Length: 117-134 cm
Wingspan: 270 cm
Weight: 8-14 kg

The California Condor is one of the most endangered species in the world. The population of this stunning raptor declined due to lead and chemical poisonings, shooting and collisions with power lines.
Captive breeding programs are active since the late 20th century, and several condors are regularly released in California and Arizona.

The pictures displayed here were taken in California in 2006. These condors are captive-born and released in the wild. They are still fed three times weekly at the beginning, to supplement what they find themselves.
(Information by Tom Merigan author of these images)

Fr: Condor de Californie
All : Kalifornischer Kondor
Esp : Cóndor Californiano
Ital : Condor della California
Nd : Californische Condor
Russe : Кондор калифорнийский
Sd : Kalifornisk kondor

Photographs by Tom Merigan
Tom Merigan’s Photo Galleries

Text by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources :     

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 2 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334156

FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA - National Geographic Society - ISBN: 0792274512

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

BirdLife International (BirdLife International)

The Peregrine Fund – World Centre for Birds of Prey


Wikipedia (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)


Home page

Page Family Cathartidae

Page Birds of prey

Summary cards


Both sexes are similar. California Condor adult has black plumage overall, except the white underwing coverts and the white edges on tertial flight feathers. 
A black ruff made with long feathers is visible around the head.

Head and neck are bare, with pinkish-orange to red colours according to the bird’s mood.
Immature has grey bare skin areas. Juvenile has mottled underwing coverts.

The hooked bill is grey to horn-coloured, with pale orange-red cere. Eyes are reddish-brown. Legs and feet are pale pinkish-grey with bare tarsi.


California Condor as other cathartid vultures lacks the syrinx and the associated muscles. This species is almost silent and unable to produce any call or song.
However, it may give some hissing, rattling and sneezing noises, but not very loud.
During the breeding season, they can be more vocal, producing warning sounds such as wheezes and snorts if an intruder approaches the nest.

California Condor frequents today remote and irregularly wooded hills in California. This species was formerly widespread across most parts of North America, living in prairies, mountains and hillside areas.
Their preferred habitats are mountains and gorges, and also hillsides, creating updrafts that allow these large raptors to soar.

California Condor lives in reduced range in California. The species has been reintroduced in the coastal mountains of S and C California (Big Sur) and in N Arizona in the Grand Canyon.  

California Condor is a scavenger, feeding on carcasses of medium to large mammals. It may travel long distances when searching for food.

Some Cathartids have keen sense of smell with large nostrils on the head sides, allowing them to find dead animals. California Condor searches mainly by signt. In the past, when these condors were still abundant, it was relatively common to see numerous birds around the same carcass, as the Old World vultures today in Africa.


California Condors also forage along the seashore which provides them important food sources such as whales, seals and seabirds regularly washed up on the beaches.
This condor is gregarious outside the breeding season, sleeping at communal roosts.

California Condor is vulnerable to nest predation involving numerous breeding failures. These large raptors do not perform strong nest defence, and one of the main causes of nest failures is that eggs are taken by Ravens.
They do not nest in colonies and they produce one single egg.   

Pair-bonds in California Condor seem to be for life, and the young birds can breed at 6-8 years old. They have a lifespan of 45-50 years.
A breeding cycle in such large raptors takes more than one year. 

California Condor uses the bare skin areas during the courtship displays. The air-sacs of the neck are well developed in this species and are important in both sexes’ displays. The skin blows up as a balloon and emphasizes the bright neck colours. The male also spreads its wings and approaches slowly the female.

California Condor is resident within the reduced range, only travelling about 30 km to reach the feeding areas.

California Condor is well adapted for soaring flight with its large wings. It uses the thermal currents to gain altitude and rarely uses the flapping flight.
Mainly found in mountainous areas where thermals are usual, the condor soars at great height and then, it glides away, losing altitude little by little until the next source of rising air.
This type of flight uses very little energy.   

The laying occurs between February and May.
California Condor nests in caves or crevices in cliffs, often near open sites for easier landing.
Female lays a single egg. Both parents incubate during 55-60 days, and share all the nesting duties.
The chick is covered first in white down with bare head, pink to yellow. The second down is grey and covers the head. The young condor fledges six months after hatching, but it depends on parents for food during several months after fledging. It has the adult plumage at 5-6 years old, and reaches its sexual maturity at 8 years old.
This species breeds only once two years.

California Condor is a scavenger, feeding at carcasses of medium to large mammals.

California Condor is a Critically Endangered species.
However, breeding programs are successful and captive birds can be released in wild and are able to breed.
In February 2010, there were 349 individuals with 180 in the wild. Captive birds are kept in several American zoos. In 1987, there were only 22 individuals.
This conservation project is very expensive, but this stunning raptor needs help and deserves our attention and care.

California Condor was a popular bird in mythology, and an important symbol to native Americans. Condor bones were added in Native American graves, and the feathers were used for headdresses.
We hope to see them again in the North American sky!