California Condor

California Trail

Location

In the Zoo

Scientific Information

Scientific Name: Gymnopyps californiacus
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Cathartidae
Genus: Gymnogyps

Size

Male

Female

Height: 4.5 feet 4 feet
Wingspan: 9.5 feet 8.5 feet
Weight: 18.5 pound 14 pounds
Maturity: 6-8 years 6-8 years

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Diet: Scavenger
Activity Timeframe: Diurnal
Interactivity: Social
Sexual Dimorphism: Yes
Gestation: 55-60 days
Lifespan in the Wild: 20 years in wild
Lifespan in Captivity: 60 years

Geographic Range

Mainly in central and southern California (122 birds) with 22 birds in Baja California and 79 in Arizona.

Conservation

Status in the Wild: Critically Endangered
Threats: Pollution

Characteristics

They are notoriously massive birds, and have the longest wingspan of any bird of continental North America. They are predominantly black, with mostly bald heads. Their baggy, wrinkled skin is grey in the juvenile form, and varies from cream to reddish orange in adults. Long, white triangular stripes on the undersides of their wings distinguish them from other raptors in flight, e.g. Bald Eagles and Turley Vultures. The stripes appear mottled grey on juveniles.

Species Specifics

California Condors are one of two species of condors in the world, and one of six New World vultures. Among several salient features that distinguish the species from the Andean Condor of South America, they are the smaller of the two. The California condor is the largest soaring bird of continental North America. They are mostly black, with bald heads and baggy, wrinkled skin (bright orange in adults and dark gray in juveniles). In flight, they have distinctive long, white feather triangles on the undersides of their wings.

Physical Characteristics

They have the ability to soar and glide for hours without beating their wings and can glide at more than 55 mph, allowing them to travel long distances in search of food. Because their food source is never reliable, they can hold approximately 3 pounds of meat in their crop, though they only eat about 1 pound of food a day. Their bald heads allow for sanitation; scavenger behavior means they have their head inside of carcasses, and with feathers on their head cleanliness would be impossible (which could lead to infection and/or disease).

Ecology

Habitat

Rocky, open-country scrubland, coniferous forest, deserts, beaches, and oak savannah.

Distribution

Foraging ranges of nonbreeding birds have been documented at about 4,350 mi2. While nesting, birds have been documented traveling up to 112 miles from the nest for a single foraging trip.

Diet

These scavengers often look for large carcasses to feed on and they prefer fresh kills.

Ecological Web

The condor's role in communities has been as a highly social scavenger, feeding mainly on carcasses found from soaring flight. Predators: Condors do not have many predators hunting them as adults, but eggs and nestling condors are threatened by common ravens, golden eagles, and many large, terrestrial animals, most notably the black bear in recent years. Prey: Feed almost entirely on carcasses of large mammals, notably deer, cattle, sheep, and horses as well as marine mammals. But have been found feeding on CA ground squirrels. In addition, food remains in nests indicate that CA condors commonly consume shells of marine mollusks and barnacles, possibly to increase their calcium intake (collected from ocean shores or subfossil deposits on inland hillsides).

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

Considered diurnal, but as scavengers, condors have to deal with a food supply that is often highly unpredictable in terms of abundance and distribution. Condors normally forage only during the midday hours, perhaps because the winds and thermals necessary for extended soaring flight are often not present at other times. They roost overnight and commonly stay preening and sunning themselves until mid-morning.

Behavior

They are rarely the first scavengers to discover a carcass, and rely mainly on observing activities of other scavengers such as common ravens and turkey vultures to find food. They will generally displace other scavengers upon arrival except golden eagles (they wait at a distance until the eagle finishes before moving in), probably because golden eagles are highly aggressive regarding food.

Social Behavior

Condors are highly gregarious in feeding and most other activities, with the exception of nesting, which occurs in caves in cliffs or natural cavities on nesting territories defended by pairs. Prior to their extinction in the wild, non-breeding birds would roost in groups of up to ~20.

Reproductive Behavior

Generally condors can start breeding at 6 years of age. Pairs are monogamous, but if one mate dies the survivor generally will find a new mate in a year or two. Cliffs, rocky outcrops, or large trees are used as nest sites, with no nesting material. CA condors have exceedingly low reproductive rates, with breeding pairs having the ability to produce 2 fledglings every 3 years. (Low reproductive rates and high survival rates are typical for animals with long-lived life histories like CA condors.) Eggs are generally laid between February- May for the species.

Offspring

1 egg per clutch, averaging 1 chick every other year. Chicks fledge after 6-7 months, but chick may leave the nest at 5 months.

Conservation

Status

Critically endangered by IUCN. U.S. and California Endangered Species Lists, Population trend: Increasing. As of February 2012, the total population stood at 173 individuals in captivity and 213 in the wild, primarily in southern and central California. The birds in California occur regularly in San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Ventura, Kern, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, San Benito, and probably Santa Cruz mountains. As of 2010, there were 104 adults in the wild that are old enough to breed and 44 have produced viable offspring.

Historical

The CA condor's had a wide distribution in North America before the late Ice Age extinctions. By the 19th century, the range spread from British Columbia to Baja California. By 1981, there were just 22 birds left, and in 1983 eggs were first taken to begin a captive-rearing program. To save this species, the 6 last wild birds were brought into captivity in 1987 (joining 26 captive birds) for an intensive conservation program involving reintroduction and release of captive-bred birds into the wild.

Current Threats

Pollution

Our Role

The Oakland Zoo has fully embraced the efforts of Ventana Wildlife Society and their work with condors. We support the project through: Fundraising: The Zoo has raised funds through various means for radio tags and monitoring.Quarters for Conservation: The Zoo chose Ventana Wildlife Society's Condor Project as one of our first Quarters for Conservation featured projects in 2011-2012, and it was also a featured project for 2014-2015.Outreach and Education: The Zoo aims to use our immense access to the public to help wildlife, like the condor. Information about the VWS condor project and what a person can do to help condors is included in special event days, docent tours, classes and lectures.Media: The Oakland Zoo offers marketing department expertise by providing Ventana Wildlife Society with cameras to monitor condors and promote their plight to the public. They are also creating an exciting and informative video about the issues and solutions.On-site help for condors: The Oakland Zoo has completed construction of condor holding and medical facilities in order to care for sick or injured condors. Our well trained veterinary staff will treat them for release back into the wild.Staff expertise in the field: Various qualified staff are trained in the capture of condors for monitoring, research and medical treatment.

How You Can Help

Contact representatives and government organization to express your interest in condor conservation and your disapproval of lead bullets. Never use lead bullets! Alternative bullets are available that can compete well with lead in accuracy, range, and killing power, and, like lead, they pose little threat of damage to gun barrels. Encourage hunters to remove bodies of animals they have killed (whether game or nongame species). Pick up trash, many condors, especially chicks & juveniles, have been found with micro-trash in their bodies. Condors and other scavengers, such as turkey vultures, help prevent the spread of disease and maintain healthy ecosystem functio

Fascinating Facts

The IUCN defines mature individuals as individuals in the wild that are currently capable of reproduction, and re-introduced individuals must have produced viable offspring before they are counted as mature individuals. Therefore, the current global population sensu IUCN is 44 mature individuals.

Daily flight patterns for condors are generally 7-8 hours in the summer and 5-6 hours in the winter. The needs for food are greater in the winter, but opportunities for finding food are restricted because there are fewer daylight hours.

There is no evidence that condors find their food by smell, though some vultures (like the turkey vulture) can.

Though condors may let golden eagles feed first, condors are more aggressive near their nests. They rarely let eagles in the area around their nesting site, driving them off any time they come in the vicinity.

Prairie falcons nest close to condors, and are very fierce in excluding large birds from their nesting areas. This gives condors protection, but also makes it difficult for them to enter their own nests.

References

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Appendices I, II, and III. (2012). Retrieved April 12, 2012 from http://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.php

BirdLife International 2012. Gymnogyps californianus. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. . Downloaded on 23 July 2012

Walters, Jeffrey et al. Status of the California Condor (Gymnogyps Californianus) and Efforts to Achieve its Recovery) 2012.

Raptors of the World by James Ferguson-Lees and David A. Christie 2001.

Snyder, Noel & Snyder, Helen. The California Condor: A Saga of Natural History and Conservation. 2000

Snyder, Noel & Snyder, Helen. California Natural History Guides: Introduction to the California Condor. 2005

California Department of Fish and Game

Meretsky et al. Demography of the California Condor: Implications for Reestablishment 2000

AOU Committee on Conservation, Status of the California Condor and Efforts to Achieve Its Recovery 2008

P.O. Box 5238

9777 Golf Links Road Oakland, CA 94605