Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 67 – The California Condor

California condors from mother nature network

“There will be no justice as long as man will stand with a knife or with a gun and destroy those who are weaker than he is”
Isaac Bashevis Singer

Native American tribes see the condor as a symbol of power.  Known to them as the Thunderbird, they believe it creates thunder in the sky by beating its enormous ten foot wings.

In flight, the majestic wings can be seen in all their splendour.  When airborne, the distinctive white patch underneath each wing is highly visible, distinguishing it from other vultures.  These great birds soar as high as fifteen thousand feet across the skies, catching thermals on the way up, rising as the ground below gets hotter.  They can stay up for hours watching, searching for food and other needs.

California condors are vultures.  Like all vultures, they are carrion feeders, not predators. As such, they are a very important part of the ecosystem, acting as  ‘nature’s cleaners’ by recycling dead organic waste.  They pick up all sorts of animal debris that would otherwise be left to rot where it fell.  They come equipped with a very tough immune system which protects then against any harmful bacteria found on decaying animals. They have incredibly keen eyesight, but a poor sense of smell, which is perhaps quite fortunate considering their feeding habits.  Their baldness is one of their many assets.  It allows them to bury into the carcasses they feed on without too much mess.  Meal over, they clean their heads and necks by rubbing them on grass or against rocks or branches.

Condors can travel up to one hundred and fifty miles a day, with a maximum flight speed of fifty-five mph.  These magnificent birds have a wing span of just under ten feet.  Their feathers are essentially black with white patches under the wings.  Their bald heads are white to reddish-purple.  They can reach a height of fifty inches, weigh up to twenty-five pounds and can live up to as much as eighty years, although sixty is more common.

The mating season for the California condor is winter to spring, followed by an incubation period of about fifty-four days.  One chick will hatch, which will receive the parents full attention.  The chick will learn to fly at the age of six months, but may stay with its parents for the next two years.  It will not gain full adult plumage until five or six years of age.

Rocky, forested regions permeated with caves, gorges and ledges for nesting.  Open grassland for hunting.
By reintroduction:  Mexico and the United States of America
What they eat
Carrion:  Condors will tuck into most carcasses they find, but prefer the larger ones, such as deer, cattle and sheep.
Lead poisoning, habitat loss, illegal shootings and human intolerance.
Status: Critically Endangered
The California condor is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Critically Endangered.  It is also under the protection of  CITES Appendix I

By 1982, only twenty-two individuals existed.   The species became extinct in the wild in 1987, when the last free-flying condors were taken into captivity to save the species via a breeding program.  At this point, only nine birds remained on the planet.  The captive breeding program was successful, and, in 1991, action was taken to start releasing the birds back into the wild.  By the spring of 2013, there were over four hundred and thirty California condors in existence, either in captivity or free-flying.
The problem of lead poisoning from  ammunition  has been addressed in California. Where, since 2007, only lead-free ammunition is permitted when hunting.  However, you will see from the link below, the LA Times reports a rise in lead poisoning of condors.  Effective or not, no such laws have been passed elsewhere yet, making the problem widespread.

Some interesting links you may like:
LA Times: Record 21 California condors treated at L.A. Zoo for lead poisoning
Hi Mountain Look Out
Kern County Look to Prevent More Condor Deaths

12 thoughts on “Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 67 – The California Condor

  1. Lead is killing so many birds. This majestic creature made a comeback, but still threatened it needs great protection. We see that not enough is being done. I grew up in the land of the Andean Condor, a threatened species being persecuted and killed due to misconception and fear.

      • Inspired by this conversation, I am honouring the imperiled Andean Condor in my next post soon. Hope you’ll like the music. We must write about, sing of and celebrate these creatures before it is too late … Thank you Amelia for being a friend of animals.

        • All my life I have loved, and had as friends, many animals. I have never been able to understand neglect and cruelty to them, either in the wild or as domestic pets. Thank you right back for being a friend to them as well, Carmen. I am looking forward to reading, and listening to, your Andean condor post. You’re absolutely right – we must honour and celebrate them as much as we possibly can ~ Amelia 🙂 🙂

  2. I was standing under a vulture one day two summers ago and turned my camera up and shot quickly while its wings were fully extended. What amazing sight and shot. Until then, I had no idea their wing spans were that long. It was definitely a majestic looking bird. So sorry they too are victims of man’s follies. Blessings, Natalie

    • Oh, how lucky, Natalie. I have seen one condor only in real life, and that poor thing was inside a cage just wide enough to extend its wings. It looked so miserable. It was a few years ago, but today I don’t think they would get away with it. ~ Amelia 🙂

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