Where is the best place to see a California condor at Pinnacles?
The free-flying adult and juvenile condors you might see are managed by Pinnacles National Park. They have commingled with the condors in the Big Sur flock and have effectively become one central California flock. Condors do not migrate and are observed in this area year round. They move frequently within their expanding territory, so they may not always be seen inside the park.
If you are going to visit Pinnacles and you hope to see a condor, one of the most likely viewing areas is the High Peaks in the early morning or early evening. The High Peaks can be reached from either entrance to the park, but keep in mind that hiking to the High Peaks is strenuous. Please carry and drink plenty of water, wear layered clothing, and be prepared for temperature extremes.
Another location that the condors spend time around is the ridge just southeast of the campground. Condors are often observed soaring on the morning thermals along the ridge and coming in to roost on their favorite trees in the evenings. Two spotting scopes have been placed in the Campground (on the Bench Trail near Pinnacles Visitor Center) that may help you get a closer look at these magnificent birds.
Remember that our condors are free-flying, which means there is no guarantee you will see one on a given day at a given time.
Please remember to stay out of areas that are marked as closed to the public to protect the condors other wildlife.
How can I tell the difference between a condor and a turkey vulture?
California condors and turkey vultures have a few key differences besides their size. If you see a bird in flight, look for the lighter area on the underside of the wings to help determine the species.
Juvenile condors have patches of mottled white along the leading edges of their wings.
Turkey vultures have a silvery area along the back edges of their wings.
The heads of juvenile condors are gray until they reach the age of 5 or 6, when their heads turn a pinkish orange. Adults have bright orange heads, and often have a pink crop bulging out of their chest if they have recently fed.
Juvenile turkey vultures also have gray heads, but adult turkey vultures are more common at Pinnacles, and have bright red heads.
Because the underwing markings can be difficult to see when a bird is flying above you, the way that a condor holds its wings is often one of the best ways to identify it. In flight, condors tend to hold their wings flat and soar without any rocking back and forth. They do flap their wings, but not as often as other birds such as turkey vultures.
Turkey vultures hold their wings in a slight "V" pattern, and will rock side to side in the wind. Turkey vulture flight is often described as wobbly or unstable when compared to that of a condor.
If you're looking at a bird that is perching, look for a numbered wing tag. All California condors have at least one tag along the leading edge of their wing, and many have two. Visit Condor Spotter to help identify which bird you saw and visit our Condor Profile page for more info on each bird.
Last updated: June 11, 2019