Scientific Name: Gymnogyps californianus
All About Condors
California condors are the largest land birds in North America, with impressive wingspans of 9.5 feet and weights of around 20 pounds. The exact lifespan of a California condor is unknown, but they are estimated to live over 60 years.
Condors typically -- though not always -- form long-term bonds with one mate year after year. Mated pairs start the courtship process during the winter months; during this period they will spend nearly all of their time together, preening each other and checking out potential nest sites. Male condors perform a display “dance” for their mate, after which the pair may copulate.
After a few weeks or months of courtship, a mated pair of condors chooses a suitable nesting site. They don’t build nests like many other birds, but instead find cavities in rocky cliffs or in the hollows of large redwood trees. Sometime between January and March, the female condor will lay a single egg in the nest cavity. Both parents take turns incubating the egg for two months until it hatches, and then continue to share parenting duties of their nestling for another six months in the nest until it fledges (learns to fly).
After this intensive parenting effort in the nest, the pair will continue to care for their newly fledged offspring for up to another year. Because of the time and energy it takes to raise one young condor to independence, condors only have one young every two years. The slow reproductive rate of California condors makes these birds more susceptible to population crashes from threats like lead poisoning, and slower to recover their populations after significant mortality events.
California condors once ranged from British Columbia, Canada down to Baja California, Mexico. This range shrank with the increase of European settlers moving west. The causes of the decrease in condors included poisoning, shooting, habitat degradation, and the collection of eggs and feathers. By the late 1800s, naturalists were already making note of the California condors’ declining numbers and in 1967, condors were listed as an endangered species. Despite this protection, their population continued to decrease and dropped to a low of 22 individuals in the 1980s. All wild condors were then trapped and placed in captive breeding programs in an effort to save the species from extinction.
Since 1992, captive-bred condors have been released at five different sites in western North America (Pinnacles National Park, Big Sur, Hopper Mountain Wildlife Refuge Complex, Vermillion Cliffs, and Baja California). Each release site monitors the flock’s behaviors, movements, nesting attempts, and mortalities. Pinnacles joined the recovery program in 2003 with the release of 2 captive-bred condors on December 20th. In 2016, the first condor chick since 1898 (condor 828) fledged from a nest within Pinnacles.
Last updated: September 24, 2019