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California Condor
Gymnogyps californianus

Status: Critically endangered

Population Trend: Increasing.

Other Names: California Vulture, Californian Condor.

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Gymnogyps californianus
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Distribution: Nearctic. Historically (1800), from CANADA (extreme southwestern British Columbia) south in the UNITED STATES along the Pacific Coast west of the Sierra Nevada to MEXICO (Sierra San Pedro Martir, Baja California Norte); historical reports for localities east of the Sierra Nevada (Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona) are equivocal, and most or all are doubtful. The last free-flying bird was taken into captivity in April 1987. Reintroduced populations are now in central coastal California (Big Sur), San Benito County, California (Pinnacles), southern central California (Santa Barbara County, Ventura County), southern Utah/northern Arizona, and northern Baja California, Mexico (Sierra San Pedro Martir). The subpopulations in California intermix to some extent, and the birds in Baja California Norte will probably soon move regularly into southern California (San Diego County). New releases are planned for a site in San Luis Obispo County, California. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic, although Late Pleistocene populations are regarded as a "temporal subspecies," G. californianus amplus, a form slightly larger in size than the present birds.

Taxonomy: Amadon (1977) suggested merging this genus with Vultur, but later abandoned this position (Amadon and Bull 1988). Based on nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, Wink (1995) found that the California Condor may be more closely related to the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratusVultur gryphus), despite their similar great size.

Movements: Irruptive or local migrant (Bildstein 2006). Somewhat nomadic within an enormous home range.

Habitat and Habits: Occurs primarily in foothills and mountains at low and medium elevations, particularly in areas with canyons and other rocky areas with suitable cliffs for nesting and roosting. Forages mostly in grasslands, oak savannas, and other open areas, occasionally in chaparral clearings ("potreros"). It formerly foraged in the littoral zone of the Pacific Coast, and some of the released individuals are now reoccupying this habitat along the Central Coast of California.

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds strictly carrion, ranging in size from ground squirrels to large ungulates, primarily deer, elk, pronghorn antelopes, and beached marine mammals before the advent of European man, and mostly cattle and sheep after the establishment of large rances in its range. Condors tend to feed mostly on muscle and viscera at larger carcasses.

Breeding: Nests in natural caves and other openings in cliffs, under large rocks, and occasionally in cavities in redwood trees (Burnett et al 2013). Egg laying in the wild occurs as early as late January and replacement eggs are laid until late April, with most eggs laid in February-March. Clutch size consists of a single unmarked pale greenish-white egg, and a replacement clutch is laid if the first egg is lost. more....

Conservation: The California Condor has been one of the most highly endangered bird species in the world throughout its modern history. As the result of an aggressive management program, including capture of the last six individuals remaining in the wild in 1986-87, captive breeding, and reintroduction of captive progeny, the total population continues to increase from the low point in 1982-82, when only 21-22 individuals were thought to survive, to 336 individuals by the end of June 2008. The California Condor is still classified globally as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International (2007), because the free-flying population in the wild does not yet contain more than 50 actively breeding individuals and is not yet self-sustainable. An unacceptably high number of birds are still being lost to poisoning from lead ingested from carcasses, and this factor may preclude rapid recovery of the species in some areas. more....

Population Estimates: The 30 September 2012 California Condor status report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed a total population of 410 individuals, including 180 in captivity and 230 in the wild. The captive birds are at the Los Angeles Zoo (21), San Diego Zoo Safari Park (28), San Diego Zoo (3), World Center for Birds of Prey (59), Oregon Zoo (41), Santa Barbara Zoo (3), Chapultepec Zoo (Mexico City) (2), and in holding pens in the field or temporarily in captivity (22). The wild birds are in central and southern California (125), Baja California (28), and Arizona (77). Forty-seven eggs were laid in captive breeding facilities in 2012, and 20 eggs were laid in wild nests in California (14), Baja California (2), and Arizona (4). Including the 2012 breeding season, there have been 127 nesting attempts in the wild since 2001, and there are presently 29 wild-fledged birds in California, 2 in Baja California, and 14 in Arizona.

Important References: 
Bent, A.C. 1937. Life histories of North American birds of prey. Order
  Falconiformes (Part 1). U.S. National Museum Bulletin 167.
Burnett, L.J. et al. 2013. Eggshell thinning and depressed hatching
  success of California Condors reintroduced to central California. Condor
Houston, D.C. 1994. Family Cathartidae (New World vultures). Pp. 24-41 in
  del Hoyo, J, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of
  the world. Vol. 2. New World vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions,
  Barcelona, Spain.
Koford, C. 1953. The California Condor. National Audubon Society Research
  Report no. 4. 154 pp.
Mee, A., and L.S. Hall 2007. California Condors in the 21st century.
  Series in Ornithology no. 3. Nuttall Ornithological Club, Cambridge, MA,
  and American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Snyder, N.F.R., and N. J. Schmitt. 2002. California Condor (Gymnogyps
). In A. Poole and F. Gill (eds.), The Birds of North
  America, No. 610. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1996. Recovery plan for the California
  Condor. 3rd revision. USFWS, Portland, OR.
Wilbur, S.R. 1978. The California Condor, 1966-76: a look at its past and
  future. North American Fauna no. 72. 136 pp.

Sites of Interest:
California Condor Recovery Plan
The most recent revision of the recovery plan.
Ventana Wilderness Society
Maintains two release sites for condors in central California.
The Peregrine Fund
Maintains a condor breeding program at the World Center for Birds of Prey, Boise, Idaho, and administers the condor reintroduction program in northern Arizona (see "Notes from the Field"
Oregon Zoo
Captive breeding progam.
San Diego Wild Animal Park
One of the most important captive breeding programs.
Conservation and Research for Endangered Species
California Condor reintroduction project in northern Baja California conducted by CRES (San Diego Zoo) in cooperation with Mexican partners.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Information on the federal condor recovery program.
Pinnacles National Monument
Details on the condor release program at Pinnacles National Monument, California.
Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge
Primary responsibility for restoring the California Condor in its former range.
Hi Mountain Lookout
A condor observation point located in the Santa Lucia Mountains, San Luis Obispo County, California.
Los Angeles Zoo
Houses one of largest captive breeding flocks of condors.
Project Gutpile
A site promoting the use of non-lead ammunition with notes on condors.
Instituto Nacional de Ecología
Details on the condor recovery project in Baja California, Mexico.
Arizona Game and Fish Department
Condor management in Arizona, including an innovative lead bullet replacement program.
Baja California Condor Reintroduction Project
Details of the San Diego Zoo's reintroduction project in the Sierra San Pedro Martir.
California Condor photos.
California Lead Ban
Details on recent lead legislation in California, posted by the California Department of Fish and Game
California Condor Conservation
A new site sponsored by the San Diego Zoo and other condor cooperators.

Bloom, Peter
Cade, Tom J.
Collins, Paul
Fry, Michael
Grantham, Jesse
Hamber, Janet
Heinrich, William R.
Linthicum, Janet
Parish, Chris N.
Risebrough, Robert W.
Sandfort, Cal
Schmitt, N. John
Wallace, Michael P.
Wiley, James

Last modified: 4/3/2015

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: California Condor Gymnogyps californianus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 7 May. 2021

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