California Condor Facts

Scientific Name: Gymnogyps californianus

Family: Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

 

Physical Description

Size: California condors have a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet. Adults can weigh between 15-22 pounds (averaging 18-20), and stand from 20-26 inches tall.

Visual Characteristics: Condors reach sexual maturity and attain adult plumage and coloration between 5-7 years of age. Adults have pink/orange featherless heads, a black ruff around the neck, black plumage, and large, white triangles on the underside of their wings. There are no visible differences between males and females. Juveniles are black, including their featherless heads. Young condors also have white triangles on the underside of their wings, but are mottled with black feathers. Visit our Condor Viewing Tips page for more information on identifying condors.

Life Span: Unknown. California condors are known to live and breed past 40 years of age in captivity. They are estimated to live 50-60 years in the wild.

 

Behavior

Feeding: Condors are obligate scavengers, meaning they are not predators and only feed on animals that are already dead. They have been documented feeding on a wide variety of carcasses, including, but not limited to: whales, sea lions, cattle, deer, pigs, ground squirrels, and rabbits. Condors sometimes find food by investigating the activities of turkey vultures and ravens, using their larger size to displace the smaller birds. As social animals, condors will often feed in groups with the most dominant birds eating first.

Nesting: At 6-7 years of age, condors become sexually mature and begin the search for a mate and a nesting territory. Condors will then defend their nesting territory from other condors. Condors are cavity nesters and do not build any sort of nest construct. In the area in and around Pinnacles, the condors utilize the rocky outcrops and cliffs for nest sites. In other areas condors have been documented using large holes in redwood or giant sequoia trees.

Females lay a single egg in late winter or spring, and both males and females participate in caring for young. The eggs hatch at around 57 days and the chick will remain in the nest for 6 months before taking their first flight. The juveniles will continue to be dependent on their parents for up to a year. Due to the long breeding season, condors generally only have one chick every other year.

Flight: Generally, condors do not flap their wings much to fly; instead, they soar on warm thermal updrafts. They hold their wings very straight and flat. Condor flights up to 200 miles in a single day and speeds of more than 55 miles per hour have been recorded.

 

Recovery Program

Conservation Status: Endangered

California condors once ranged from British Columbia, Canada through many western states in the U.S., down to Baja California, Mexico. This range shrank with the increase of European settlers in the West for a number of reasons including: poisoning, shooting, habitat degradation, and the collection of eggs, feathers, and whole birds for private and public collections. 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 on the first U.S. endangered species list. 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 2009, the first nest involving a Pinnacles condor successfully fledged condor 514 and in 2010, biologists found the first documented condor nest within the Pinnacles National Park boundary since 1898. For more information on the Pinnacles Condor Program visit our main page.

Current Population Statistics

Last updated: February 28, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

5000 Highway 146
Paicines, CA 95043

Phone:

(831) 389-4486
To contact the Pinnacles Campground, please call (831) 389-4538.

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