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California Condor

California Condor

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The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is a New World vulture
New World vulture
The New World Vulture or Condor family Cathartidae contains seven species in fivegenera, all but one of which are monotypic. It includes five vultures and two condors found in warm and temperate areas of the Americas....

, the largest North American land bird. Currently, this condor
Condor
Condor is the name for two species of New World vultures, each in a monotypic genus. They are the largest flying land birds in the Western Hemisphere.They are:* The Andean Condor which inhabits the Andean mountains....

 inhabits only the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in the United States in the state of Arizona. It is largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park, the 15th national park in the United States...

 area, Zion National Park
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in the Southwestern United States, near Springdale, Utah. A prominent feature of the park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River...

, and coastal mountains of central and southern California and northern Baja California
Baja California
Baja California officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Baja California is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is both the northernmost and westernmost state of Mexico. Before becoming a state in 1953, the area was known as the North...

. Although other fossil members are known, it is the only surviving member of the genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Gymnogyps.

It is black with patches of white on the underside of the wings and a largely bald head, with skin color ranging from yellowish to a bright red depending on the bird's mood. Its almost 3.0 meter wingspan
Wingspan
The wingspan of an airplane or a bird, is the distance from one wingtip to the other wingtip. For example, the Boeing 777 has a wingspan of about ; and a Wandering Albatross caught in 1965 had a wingspan of , the official record for a living bird.The term wingspan, more technically extent, is...

 is the largest of any North American bird, and its weight of up to 29 lbs. makes it the heaviest as well. The condor is a scavenger
Scavenger
Scavenging is both a carnivorous and herbivorous feeding behavior in which individual scavengers search out dead animal and dead plant biomass on which to feed. The eating of carrion from the same species is referred to as cannibalism. Scavengers play an important role in the ecosystem by...

 and eats large amounts of carrion
Carrion
Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal. Carrion is an important food source for large carnivores and omnivores in most ecosystems. Examples of carrion-eaters include vultures, hawks, eagles, hyenas, Virginia Opossum, Tasmanian Devils, coyotes, Komodo dragons, and burying beetles...

. It is one of the world's longest-living birds, with a lifespan of up to 60 years.

Condor numbers dramatically declined in the 20th century due to poaching
Poaching
Poaching is the illegal taking of wild plants or animals contrary to local and international conservation and wildlife management laws. Violations of hunting laws and regulations are normally punishable by law and, collectively, such violations are known as poaching.It may be illegal and in...

, lead poisoning
Lead poisoning
Lead poisoning is a medical condition caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems...

, and habitat destruction
Habitat destruction
Habitat destruction is the process in which natural habitat is rendered functionally unable to support the species present. In this process, the organisms that previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity. Habitat destruction by human activity mainly for the purpose of...

. Eventually, a conservation
Conservation movement
The conservation movement, also known as nature conservation, is a political, environmental and a social movement that seeks to protect natural resources including animal, fungus and plant species as well as their habitat for the future....

 plan was put in place by the United States government that led to the capture of all 22 remaining wild condors in 1987. These surviving birds were bred at the San Diego Wild Animal Park
San Diego Wild Animal Park
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park, is a zoo in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, California, near Escondido. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego County. The Park houses a large array of wild and endangered animals including...

 and the Los Angeles Zoo
Los Angeles Zoo
The Los Angeles Zoo , is a zoo founded in 1966 and located in Los Angeles, California. The City of Los Angeles owns the entire zoo, its land and facilities, and the animals...

. Numbers rose through captive breeding
Captive breeding
Captive breedingis the process of breeding animals in human controlled environments with restricted settings, such as wildlife reserves, zoos and other conservation facilities; sometimes the process is construed to include release of individual organisms to the wild, when there is sufficient...

 and, beginning in 1991, condors have been reintroduced into the wild. The project is the most expensive species conservation project ever undertaken in the United States. The California Condor is one of the world's rarest bird species. As of April 2011, there are 394 condors known to be living, including 181 in the wild.

The condor is a significant bird to many Californian Native American groups and plays an important role in several of their traditional myths
Native American mythology
Native American mythology is the body of traditional narratives associated with Native American religion from a mythographical perspective. Native American belief systems include many sacred narratives. Such spiritual stories are deeply based in Nature and are rich with the symbolism of seasons,...

.

Taxonomy


The California Condor was described by English naturalist George Shaw
George Shaw
George Shaw was an English botanist and zoologist.Shaw was born at Bierton, Buckinghamshire and was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, receiving his M.A. in 1772. He took up the profession of medical practitioner. In 1786 he became the assistant lecturer in botany at Oxford University...

 in 1797 as Vultur californianus. It was originally classified in the same genus as the Andean Condor
Andean Condor
The Andean Condor is a species of South American bird in the New World vulture family Cathartidae and is the only member of the genus Vultur...

 (V. gryphus), but, due to the Andean Condor's slightly different markings, slightly longer wings, and tendency to kill small animals to eat, the California Condor has now been placed in its own monotypic genus. The generic name Gymnogyps is derived from the Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 gymnos/γυμνος "naked" or "bare", and gyps/γυψ "vulture", while the specific name californianus comes from its location in California. The word condor itself is derived from the Ecuadorian Quechua
Quechua languages
Quechua is a Native South American language family and dialect cluster spoken primarily in the Andes of South America, derived from an original common ancestor language, Proto-Quechua. It is the most widely spoken language family of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of probably...

 cuntur.

The exact taxonomic placement of the California Condor and the other six species of New World vulture
New World vulture
The New World Vulture or Condor family Cathartidae contains seven species in fivegenera, all but one of which are monotypic. It includes five vultures and two condors found in warm and temperate areas of the Americas....

s remains unclear. Though similar in appearance and ecological roles
Ecological niche
In ecology, a niche is a term describing the relational position of a species or population in its ecosystem to each other; e.g. a dolphin could potentially be in another ecological niche from one that travels in a different pod if the members of these pods utilize significantly different food...

 to Old World vulture
Old World vulture
Old World vultures belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, buzzards, kites, and hawks.Old World vultures are not closely related to the superficially similar New World vultures and condors, and do not share that group's good sense of smell. The similarities between the two...

s, the New World vultures evolved from a different ancestor in a different part of the world. Just how different the two are is currently under debate, with some earlier authorities suggesting that the New World vultures are more closely related to stork
Stork
Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills. They belong to the family Ciconiidae. They are the only family in the biological order Ciconiiformes, which was once much larger and held a number of families....

s. More recent authorities maintain their overall position in the order Falconiformes
Falconiformes
The order Falconiformes is a group of about 290 species of birds that comprises the diurnal birds of prey. Raptor classification is difficult and the order is treated in several ways.- Classification problems :...

 along with the Old World vultures or place them in their own order, Cathartiformes. The South American Classification Committee has removed the New World vultures from Ciconiiformes
Ciconiiformes
Traditionally, the order Ciconiiformes has included a variety of large, long-legged wading birds with large bills: storks, herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills, and several others. Ciconiiformes are known from the Late Eocene...

 and instead placed them in Incertae sedis
Incertae sedis
, is a term used to define a taxonomic group where its broader relationships are unknown or undefined. Uncertainty at specific taxonomic levels is attributed by , , and similar terms.-Examples:*The fossil plant Paradinandra suecica could not be assigned to any...

, but notes that a move to Falconiformes or Cathartiformes is possible.

Evolutionary history



The genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 Gymnogyps is an example of a relict
Relict
A relict is a surviving remnant of a natural phenomenon.* In biology a relict is an organism that at an earlier time was abundant in a large area but now occurs at only one or a few small areas....

 distribution. During the Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 epoch
Epoch (reference date)
In the fields of chronology and periodization, an epoch is an instance in time chosen as the origin of a particular era. The "epoch" then serves as a reference point from which time is measured...

, this genus was widespread across the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

. From fossils, the Floridan Gymnogyps kofordi from the Early Pleistocene
Early Pleistocene
Calabrian is a subdivision of the Pleistocene Epoch of the Geologic time scale. ~1.8 Ma.—781,000 years ago ± 5,000 years, a period of ~.The end of the stage is defined by the last magnetic pole reversal and plunge in to an ice age and global drying possibly colder and drier than the late Miocene ...

 and the Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

vian Gymnogyps howardae from the Late Pleistocene
Late Pleistocene
The Late Pleistocene is a stage of the Pleistocene Epoch. The beginning of the stage is defined by the base of the Eemian interglacial phase before the final glacial episode of the Pleistocene 126,000 ± 5,000 years ago. The end of the stage is defined exactly at 10,000 Carbon-14 years BP...

 have been described. A condor found in Late Pleistocene deposits on Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 was initially described as Antillovultur varonai, but has since been recognized as another member of Gymnogyps. It may even have been a subspecies of the California Condor.

Today's California Condor is the sole surviving member of Gymnogyps and has no accepted subspecies; although its range greatly contracted during the Holocene
Holocene
The Holocene is a geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene and continues to the present. The Holocene is part of the Quaternary period. Its name comes from the Greek words and , meaning "entirely recent"...

, the species always had a small and inbred population. However, there is a Late Pleistocene form that is sometimes regarded as a palaeosubspecies
Chronospecies
A chronospecies describes a group of one or more species derived from a sequential development pattern which involves continual and uniform changes from an extinct ancestral form on an evolutionary scale. This sequence of alterations eventually produces a population which is physically,...

, Gymnogyps californianus amplus. Current opinions are mixed regarding the classification of the form as a chronospecies or a separate species Gymnogyps amplus. Gymnogyps amplus occurred over much of the bird's historical range – even extending into Florida – but was larger, having about the same weight as the Andean Condor
Andean Condor
The Andean Condor is a species of South American bird in the New World vulture family Cathartidae and is the only member of the genus Vultur...

. This bird also had a wider bill. As the climate changed during the last ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

, the entire population became smaller until it had evolved into the Gymnogyps californianus californianus of today.

Description



The adult California Condor is a uniform black, with the exception, especially in the male, of large triangular patches or bands of white on the underside of the wings. It has gray legs and feet, an ivory-colored bill, a frill of black feather
Feather
Feathers are one of the epidermal growths that form the distinctive outer covering, or plumage, on birds and some non-avian theropod dinosaurs. They are considered the most complex integumentary structures found in vertebrates, and indeed a premier example of a complex evolutionary novelty. They...

s surrounding the base of the neck, and brownish red eyes. The juvenile is mostly a mottled dark brown with blackish coloration on the head. It has mottled gray instead of white on the underside of its flight feather
Flight feather
Flight feathers are the long, stiff, asymmetrically shaped, but symmetrically paired feathers on the wings or tail of a bird; those on the wings are called remiges while those on the tail are called rectrices . Their primary function is to aid in the generation of both thrust and lift, thereby...

s.

As an adaptation for hygiene, the condor's head and neck have few feathers, which exposes the skin to the sterilizing effects of dehydration
Dehydration
In physiology and medicine, dehydration is defined as the excessive loss of body fluid. It is literally the removal of water from an object; however, in physiological terms, it entails a deficiency of fluid within an organism...

 and solar ultraviolet light at high altitudes. The skin of the head and neck is capable of flushing noticeably in response to emotional state, a capability that can serve as communication between individuals. The skin color varies from yellowish to a glowing reddish-orange.

Contrary to the usual rule among true birds of prey
Bird of prey
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh....

, the female is slightly smaller than the male. Overall length can range from 109–140 cm (42.9–55.1 in) and the wingspan is 2.49–3 m (8.2–9.8 ft). Their weight can range from 7–14.1 kg (15.4–31.1 lb), with estimations of average weight ranging from 8–9 kg (17.6–19.8 lb). Wingspans of up to 3.4 m (11.2 ft) have been reported but no wingspan over 3 m (9.8 ft) has been verified. Most measurements are from birds raised in captivity, so determining if there are any major differences in measurements between wild and captive condors is difficult.

California Condors have the largest wingspan of any North American bird. They are surpassed in both body length and weight only by the Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swan
The Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, is the largest native North American bird, if measured in terms of weight and length, and is the largest living waterfowl species on earth. It is the North American counterpart of the European Whooper Swan.-Description:Males typically measure from and weigh...

 and the introduced Mute Swan
Mute Swan
The Mute Swan is a species of swan, and thus a member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae. It is native to much of Europe and Asia, and the far north of Africa. It is also an introduced species in North America, Australasia and southern Africa. The name 'mute' derives from it being less...

. The American White Pelican
American White Pelican
The American White Pelican is a large aquatic bird from the order Pelecaniformes. It breeds in interior North America, moving south and to the coasts, as far as Central America, in winter....

 and Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane
The whooping crane , the tallest North American bird, is an endangered crane species named for its whooping sound. Along with the Sandhill Crane, it is one of only two crane species found in North America. The whooping crane's lifespan is estimated to be 22 to 24 years in the wild...

 also have longer bodies than the condor. Condors are so large that they can be mistaken for a small, distant airplane, which possibly occurs more often than they are mistaken for other species of bird.

The middle toe of the California Condor's foot is greatly elongated, and the hind one is only slightly developed. The talons
Claw
A claw is a curved, pointed appendage, found at the end of a toe or finger in most mammals, birds, and some reptiles. However, the word "claw" is also often used in reference to an invertebrate. Somewhat similar fine hooked structures are found in arthropods such as beetles and spiders, at the end...

 of all the toes are straight and blunt, and are thus more adapted to walking than gripping. This is more similar to their supposed relatives the stork
Stork
Storks are large, long-legged, long-necked wading birds with long, stout bills. They belong to the family Ciconiidae. They are the only family in the biological order Ciconiiformes, which was once much larger and held a number of families....

s than to birds of prey and Old World vulture
Old World vulture
Old World vultures belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, buzzards, kites, and hawks.Old World vultures are not closely related to the superficially similar New World vultures and condors, and do not share that group's good sense of smell. The similarities between the two...

s, which use their feet as weapons or organs of prehension.

Historic range



At the time of human settlement of the Americas
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

, the California Condor was widespread across North America. However, climate changes associated with the end of the last glacial period and the extinction
Quaternary extinction event
The Quaternary period saw the extinctions of numerous predominantly larger, especially megafaunal, species, many of which occurred during the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene epoch. However, the extinction wave did not stop at the end of the Pleistocene, but continued especially on...

 of the Pleistocene megafauna
Pleistocene megafauna
Pleistocene megafauna is the set of species of large animals — mammals, birds and reptiles — that lived on Earth during the Pleistocene epoch and became extinct in a Quaternary extinction event. These species appear to have died off as humans expanded out of Africa and southern Asia,...

 led to a subsequent reduction in range and population. Five hundred years ago, the California Condor roamed across the American Southwest and West Coast
West Coast of the United States
West Coast or Pacific Coast are terms for the westernmost coastal states of the United States. The term most often refers to the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Although not part of the contiguous United States, Alaska and Hawaii do border the Pacific Ocean but can't be included in...

. Faunal remains of condors have been found documented in Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

, Nevada
Nevada
Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

, New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, and Texas. The Lewis and Clark Expedition
Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition, or ″Corps of Discovery Expedition" was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and led by two Virginia-born veterans of Indian wars in the Ohio Valley, Meriwether Lewis and William...

 of the early 19th century reported on their sighting and shooting of California Condors near the mouth of the Columbia River
Columbia River
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. The river rises in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, flows northwest and then south into the U.S. state of Washington, then turns west to form most of the border between Washington and the state...

.

Habitat


The condors live in rocky scrubland, coniferous forests, and oak savanna
Oak savanna
An oak savanna is a type of savanna, or lightly forested grassland, where oaks are the dominant tree species. These savannas were maintained historically through wildfires set by lightning, grazing, low precipitation, poor soil, and/or fires set by Native Americans...

s. They are often found near cliffs or large trees, which they use as nesting sites. Individual birds have a huge range and have been known to travel up to 250 km (150 mi) in search of carrion
Carrion
Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal. Carrion is an important food source for large carnivores and omnivores in most ecosystems. Examples of carrion-eaters include vultures, hawks, eagles, hyenas, Virginia Opossum, Tasmanian Devils, coyotes, Komodo dragons, and burying beetles...

.

There are two sanctuaries dedicated to this bird, the Sisquoc Condor Sanctuary in the San Rafael Wilderness
San Rafael Wilderness
The San Rafael Wilderness is a wilderness area in the mountains of north central Santa Barbara County, California, USA. It is completely contained within the Los Padres National Forest, and is north of the city of Santa Barbara and east of Santa Maria...

 and the Sespe Condor Sanctuary
Sespe Condor Sanctuary
Sespe Condor Sanctuary is a wildlife refuge in the Los Padres National Forest. The United States Forest Service established the sanctuary in 1947 for the California condor, which is an endangered species and the largest living bird in North America...

 in the Los Padres National Forest
Los Padres National Forest
Los Padres National Forest is a forest located in southern and central California, which includes most of the mountainous land along the California coast from Ventura to Monterey, extending inland...

. These areas were chosen because of their prime condor nesting habitat.

Ecology and behavior



When in flight
Bird flight
Flight is the main mode of locomotion used by most of the world's bird species. Flight assists birds while feeding, breeding and avoiding predators....

, the movements of the condor are remarkably graceful. The lack of a large sternum
Sternum
The sternum or breastbone is a long flat bony plate shaped like a capital "T" located anteriorly to the heart in the center of the thorax...

 to anchor their correspondingly large flight muscles restricts them to being primarily soarers. The birds flap their wings when taking off from the ground, but after attaining a moderate elevation they largely glide, sometimes going for miles without a single flap of their wings. They have been known to fly up to speeds of 90 km/h (55 mph) and as high as 4,600 m (15,000 ft). They prefer to roost on high perches from which they can launch without any major wing-flapping effort. Often, these birds are seen soaring near rock cliffs, using thermals to aid them in keeping aloft.

The California Condor has a long life span, reaching up to 50 years. If it survives to adulthood, the condor has few natural threats other than humans. Their vocal display is limited to grunts and hisses. Condors bathe frequently and can spend hours a day preening their feathers. Condors also perform urohidrosis
Urohidrosis
Urohidrosis is the habit in some birds of defecating onto the scaly portions of the legs as a cooling mechanism, using evaporative cooling of the fluids. Several species of storks and New World vultures exhibit this behaviour. Birds' droppings consist of faeces and urine, which are excreted...

, or defecate on their legs, to reduce their body temperature. There is a well-developed social structure within large groups of condors, with competition to determine a pecking order decided by body language, competitive play behavior, and a variety of hisses and grunts. This social hierarchy is displayed especially when the birds feed, with the dominant birds eating before the younger ones.

Diet


Wild condors inhabit large territories, often traveling 250 km (155.3 mi) a day in search of carrion
Carrion
Carrion refers to the carcass of a dead animal. Carrion is an important food source for large carnivores and omnivores in most ecosystems. Examples of carrion-eaters include vultures, hawks, eagles, hyenas, Virginia Opossum, Tasmanian Devils, coyotes, Komodo dragons, and burying beetles...

. It is thought that in the early days of its existence as a species, the California Condor lived off the carcasses of the "megafauna
Megafauna
In terrestrial zoology, megafauna are "giant", "very large" or "large" animals. The most common thresholds used are or...

", which are now extinct
Quaternary extinction event
The Quaternary period saw the extinctions of numerous predominantly larger, especially megafaunal, species, many of which occurred during the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene epoch. However, the extinction wave did not stop at the end of the Pleistocene, but continued especially on...

 in North America. They still prefer to feast on large, terrestrial mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

ian carcasses such as deer
Deer
Deer are the ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. Species in the Cervidae family include white-tailed deer, elk, moose, red deer, reindeer, fallow deer, roe deer and chital. Male deer of all species and female reindeer grow and shed new antlers each year...

, goat
Goat
The domestic goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of...

s, sheep, donkey
Donkey
The donkey or ass, Equus africanus asinus, is a domesticated member of the Equidae or horse family. The wild ancestor of the donkey is the African Wild Ass, E...

s, horse
Horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

s, pigs, cougars, bears, or cattle
Cattle
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

. Alternatively, they may feed on the bodies of smaller mammals, such as rabbit
Rabbit
Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world...

s or coyote
Coyote
The coyote , also known as the American jackal or the prairie wolf, is a species of canine found throughout North and Central America, ranging from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States and Canada...

s, aquatic mammal
Aquatic mammal
Aquatic and semi-aquatic mammals are a diverse group of mammals that dwell partly or entirely in bodies of water. They include the various marine mammals who dwell in oceans, as well as various freshwater species, such as the Platypus and the European Otter.-Groups:* Order Sirenia: Sirenians**...

s such as whale
Whale
Whale is the common name for various marine mammals of the order Cetacea. The term whale sometimes refers to all cetaceans, but more often it excludes dolphins and porpoises, which belong to suborder Odontoceti . This suborder also includes the sperm whale, killer whale, pilot whale, and beluga...

s and California Sea Lion
California Sea Lion
The California sea lion is a coastal sea lion of western North America. Their numbers are abundant , and the population continues to expand about 5% annually. They are quite intelligent and can adapt to man-made environments...

s, or salmon
Salmon
Salmon is the common name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae. Several other fish in the same family are called trout; the difference is often said to be that salmon migrate and trout are resident, but this distinction does not strictly hold true...

. Bird and reptile
Reptile
Reptiles are members of a class of air-breathing, ectothermic vertebrates which are characterized by laying shelled eggs , and having skin covered in scales and/or scutes. They are tetrapods, either having four limbs or being descended from four-limbed ancestors...

 carcasses are rarely eaten. Since they do not have a sense of smell
Olfaction
Olfaction is the sense of smell. This sense is mediated by specialized sensory cells of the nasal cavity of vertebrates, and, by analogy, sensory cells of the antennae of invertebrates...

, they spot these corpses by looking for other scavengers, like eagle
Eagle
Eagles are members of the bird family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other. Most of the more than 60 species occur in Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species can be found in the United States and Canada, nine more in...

s and smaller vulture
Vulture
Vulture is the name given to two groups of convergently evolved scavenging birds, the New World Vultures including the well-known Californian and Andean Condors, and the Old World Vultures including the birds which are seen scavenging on carcasses of dead animals on African plains...

s, the latter of which cannot rip through the tougher hides of these larger animals with the efficiency of the larger condor. They can usually intimidate other scavengers away from the carcass, with the exception of bears, which will ignore them, and Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle
The Golden Eagle is one of the best known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. Once widespread across the Holarctic, it has disappeared from many of the more heavily populated areas...

s, which will fight a condor over a kill or a carcass. In the wild they are intermittent eaters, often going for between a few days to two weeks without eating, then gorging themselves on 1 – of meat at once, sometimes to the point of being unable to lift themselves off the ground.

Reproduction



Condors begin to look for a mate when they reach sexual maturity at the age of six. To attract a prospective mate, the male condor performs a display. In the display, the male turns his head red and puffs out his neck feathers. He then spreads his wings and slowly approaches the female. If the female lowers her head to accept the male, the condors become mates for life. The pair makes a simple nest in caves or on cliff clefts, especially ones with nearby roosting trees and open spaces for landing. A mated female lays one bluish-white egg
Egg (biology)
An egg is an organic vessel in which an embryo first begins to develop. In most birds, reptiles, insects, molluscs, fish, and monotremes, an egg is the zygote, resulting from fertilization of the ovum, which is expelled from the body and permitted to develop outside the body until the developing...

 every other February or March. The egg weighs about 280 g (10 oz
Ounce
The ounce is a unit of mass with several definitions, the most commonly used of which are equal to approximately 28 grams. The ounce is used in a number of different systems, including various systems of mass that form part of the imperial and United States customary systems...

) and measures from 90–120 mm (3.5–4.75 in.) in length and about 67 mm (2.6 in.) in width. If the chick or egg is lost or removed, the parents "double clutch", or lay another egg to take the lost one's place. Researchers and breeders take advantage of this behavior to double the reproductive rate by taking the first egg away for hand-rearing; this induces the parents to lay a second egg, which the condors are sometimes allowed to raise.

The eggs hatch after 53 to 60 days of incubation
Avian incubation
Incubation refers to the process by which certain oviparous animals hatch their eggs, and to the development of the embryo within the egg. The most vital factor of incubation is the constant temperature required for its development over a specific period. Especially in domestic fowl, the act of...

 by both parents. Chicks are born with their eyes open and sometimes can take up to a week to hatch from their egg. The young are covered with a grayish down until they are almost as large as their parents. They are able to fly after five to six months, but continue to roost and hunt with their parents until they turn two, at which point they are displaced by a new clutch. Ravens
Common Raven
The Common Raven , also known as the Northern Raven, is a large, all-black passerine bird. Found across the northern hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed of all corvids...

 are the main predatory threat to condor eggs, while golden eagle
Golden Eagle
The Golden Eagle is one of the best known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. Once widespread across the Holarctic, it has disappeared from many of the more heavily populated areas...

s and bear
Bear
Bears are mammals of the family Ursidae. Bears are classified as caniforms, or doglike carnivorans, with the pinnipeds being their closest living relatives. Although there are only eight living species of bear, they are widespread, appearing in a wide variety of habitats throughout the Northern...

s are potential predators of condor offspring.

Conservation



Current status


In modern times, a wide variety of causes have contributed to the condor's decline. Its exacting mating habits and resulting low birth rate, combined with a late age of sexual maturity, make the bird vulnerable to loss of population. Significant damage to the condor population is also attributed to poaching
Poaching
Poaching is the illegal taking of wild plants or animals contrary to local and international conservation and wildlife management laws. Violations of hunting laws and regulations are normally punishable by law and, collectively, such violations are known as poaching.It may be illegal and in...

, especially for museum specimens, lead poisoning
Lead poisoning
Lead poisoning is a medical condition caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems...

 (from eating animals containing lead shot), DDT
DDT
DDT is one of the most well-known synthetic insecticides. It is a chemical with a long, unique, and controversial history....

 poisoning, electric power line
Electric power transmission
Electric-power transmission is the bulk transfer of electrical energy, from generating power plants to Electrical substations located near demand centers...

s, egg collecting
Oology
Oology is a branch of ornithology studying bird eggs, nests and breeding behavior. Oology can also refer to the hobby of collecting wild birds' eggs, sometimes called birdnesting or egging, which is now illegal in many jurisdictions.-As a science:Oology became increasingly popular in Britain and...

, and habitat destruction
Habitat destruction
Habitat destruction is the process in which natural habitat is rendered functionally unable to support the species present. In this process, the organisms that previously used the site are displaced or destroyed, reducing biodiversity. Habitat destruction by human activity mainly for the purpose of...

. During the California Gold Rush
California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands , and Latin America, who were the first to start flocking to...

, some condors were even kept as pets.

In addition to this, cattle ranchers who observed condors feeding on the dead young of their cattle assumed that the birds killed the cattle. This fallacy led to the condor's extinction in some parts of the western United States. This belief was so deeply ingrained that the reintroduction
Reintroduction
Reintroduction is the deliberate release of a species into the wild in zones formerly inhabited by said species but where it has disappeared from for a number of reasons, from captivity or relocated from other areas where the species still survives in...

 of condors to the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in the United States in the state of Arizona. It is largely contained within the Grand Canyon National Park, the 15th national park in the United States...

 was challenged by some cattle ranchers, who mistakenly believed that the bird hunted calves and lambs.

Unanticipated deaths among recent condor populations occurred due to contact with Golden Eagle
Golden Eagle
The Golden Eagle is one of the best known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. Once widespread across the Holarctic, it has disappeared from many of the more heavily populated areas...

s, power lines, wind turbines and other factors such as lead poisoning
Lead poisoning
Lead poisoning is a medical condition caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body. Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems...

. Since 1994, captive-bred California Condors have been trained to avoid power lines and people. Since the implementation of this aversion conditioning program, the number of condor deaths due to power lines has greatly decreased. Lead poisoning due to fragmented lead bullets in large game waste is a particularly big problem for condors due to their extremely strong digestive juices; this lead waste is not as much of a problem for other avian scavengers such as the Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture
The Turkey Vulture is a bird found throughout most of the Americas. It is also known in some North American regions as the Turkey Buzzard , and in some areas of the Caribbean as the John Crow or Carrion Crow...

 and Common Raven
Common Raven
The Common Raven , also known as the Northern Raven, is a large, all-black passerine bird. Found across the northern hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed of all corvids...

. This problem has been addressed in California by the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act, a bill that went into effect July 1, 2008 that requires that hunters use non-lead bullets when hunting in the condor's range.

California Condor Recovery Plan



As the condor's population continued to decline, discussion began about starting a captive breeding program for the birds. Opponents to this plan argued that the condors had the right to freedom, that capturing all of the condors would change the species' habits forever, and that the cost was too great. However, the project received the approval of the United States government
Federal government of the United States
The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

, and the capture of the remaining wild condors was completed on Easter Sunday 1987, when AC-9, the last wild condor, was captured. There were only 22 condors in existence, all in captivity.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan was to establish two geographically separate populations, one in California and the other in Arizona, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs. As the Recovery Program works toward this goal the number of release sites has grown. There are three active release sites in California, one in Arizona and one in Baja California, Mexico.

The captive breeding program, led by the San Diego Wild Animal Park
San Diego Wild Animal Park
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park, formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park, is a zoo in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego, California, near Escondido. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in San Diego County. The Park houses a large array of wild and endangered animals including...

 and Los Angeles Zoo
Los Angeles Zoo
The Los Angeles Zoo , is a zoo founded in 1966 and located in Los Angeles, California. The City of Los Angeles owns the entire zoo, its land and facilities, and the animals...

, got off to a slow start due to the condor's mating habits. However, utilizing the bird's ability to double clutch
Clutch (eggs)
A clutch of eggs refers to all the eggs produced by birds or reptiles, often at a single time, particularly those laid in a nest.In birds, destruction of a clutch by predators, , results in double-clutching...

, biologists began removing the first egg from the nest and raising it with puppets, allowing the parents to lay another egg.

As the number of condors grew, attention began to focus on releasing some back into the wild. In 1988, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is a federal government agency within the United States Department of the Interior dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife, and natural habitats...

 began a reintroduction experiment involving the release of captive Andean Condor
Andean Condor
The Andean Condor is a species of South American bird in the New World vulture family Cathartidae and is the only member of the genus Vultur...

s into the wild in California. Only females were released, to eliminate the possibility of accidentally introducing a South American species into the United States. The experiment was a success, and all the Andean Condors were recaptured and re-released in South America. California Condors were released in 1991 and 1992 in California, and again in 1996 in Arizona near the Grand Canyon. Though the birth rate remains low in the wild, their numbers are increasing steadily through regular releases of captive-reared adolescents.
The California Condor conservation project is the most expensive species conservation project in United States history, costing over $35 million, including $20 million in federal and state funding, since World War II. As of 2007 the annual cost for the condor conservation program was around $2.0 million per year. However, nesting milestones have been recently reached by the reintroduced condors. In 2003, the first nestling fledge
Fledge
Fledge is the stage in a young bird's life when the feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight. It also describes the act of a chick's parents raising it to a fully grown state...

d in the wild since 1981. In March 2006, a pair of California Condors, released by Ventana Wildlife Society
Ventana Wildlife Society
Ventana Wildlife Society is a 5013 non-profit organization founded in 1977 by a group of private citizens to restore endangered species native to central California. VWS has five full-time staff biologists, together with seasonal interns, monitoring, tracking and researching endangered species,...

, attempted to nest in a hollow tree near Big Sur
Big Sur
Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the Central Coast of California where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The name "Big Sur" is derived from the original Spanish-language "el sur grande", meaning "the big south", or from "el país grande del sur", "the big...

, California. This was the first time in more than 100 years in which a pair of California Condors had been seen nesting in Northern California. As of November 2010 there are 384 individuals living, including 181 in the wild and the rest in the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Oregon Zoo
Oregon Zoo
The Oregon Zoo, formerly the Washington Park Zoo, is a zoo in Portland, the largest city in the U.S. state of Oregon. Located southwest of Downtown Portland, the zoo is inside Portland's Washington Park, and includes a narrow-gauge railway that connects to the International Rose Test Garden inside...

, and the World Center for Birds of Prey
World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey, is the headquarters for The Peregrine Fund, an international non-profit organization founded in 1970 that conserves endangered raptors around the world. Built in 1984, the World Center for Birds of Prey is located on on a hilltop overlooking Boise, Idaho...

 in Boise, Idaho
Boise, Idaho
Boise is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Idaho, as well as the county seat of Ada County. Located on the Boise River, it anchors the Boise City-Nampa metropolitan area and is the largest city between Salt Lake City, Utah and Portland, Oregon.As of the 2010 Census Bureau,...

. As of October 2010, the wild condor population in its name state of California reached 100 individuals, and 73 wild condors in Arizona.

As the Recovery Program achieved milestones, a fifth active release site in Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park
Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park
Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park is a national park in the Mexican state of Baja California. The Park is part of the municipality of Ensenada, Baja California. The area was first explored by Europeans in 1701 by Eusebio Francisco Kino by Dominican orders.The park is known for its pine...

, Baja California, Mexico, was added to the three release sites in California (Big Sur, Pinnacles National Monument
Pinnacles National Monument
Pinnacles National Monument is a protected mountainous area located east of central California's Salinas Valley, just miles from the town of Soledad...

 and Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge
Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge
The Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge is located in the foothills of the southwestern San Joaquin Valley in Kern County, California. The refuge is one of four units of the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex for California condors....

) and the Vermilion Cliffs
Vermilion Cliffs
The Vermilion Cliffs are the second "step" up in the five-step Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau. Reddish or vermilion-colored cliffs are found along U.S. Highway 89 and U.S. Highway 89A near Kanab, Utah . They extend from a location near Page, Arizona, west for a considerable distance, in...

 release site in Arizona. In early 2007, a California condor laid an egg in Mexico for the first time since at least the 1930s. The population of the condors has risen due to these wild and also captive nestings. In the spring of 2009, a second wild chick was born in the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park
Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park
Sierra de San Pedro Mártir National Park is a national park in the Mexican state of Baja California. The Park is part of the municipality of Ensenada, Baja California. The area was first explored by Europeans in 1701 by Eusebio Francisco Kino by Dominican orders.The park is known for its pine...

 and was named Inyaa (“Sun” in the Kiliwa
Kiliwa
The Kiliwa are an aboriginal people of northern Baja California, Mexico. They occupied a territory lying between the Cochimí on the south and the Paipai on the north, and extending from San Felipe on the Gulf of California to San Quintín on the Pacific coast...

 language) by local environmentalists.

Relationship with humans



Throughout its historic range, the California Condor has been a popular subject of mythology
Native American mythology
Native American mythology is the body of traditional narratives associated with Native American religion from a mythographical perspective. Native American belief systems include many sacred narratives. Such spiritual stories are deeply based in Nature and are rich with the symbolism of seasons,...

 and an important symbol to Native Americans
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

. Unusually, this bird takes on different roles in the storytelling of the different tribes.
The Wiyot
Wiyot people
The Wiyot people are a native people of the Humboldt Bay, California and nearby environs.-History:The Wiyot and Yurok are the farthest southwest people whose language has Algic roots; Wiyot and Yurok are distantly related to the Algonquian languages...

 tribe of California say that the condor recreated mankind after Above Old Man wiped humanity out with a flood. However, other tribes, such as California's Mono
Mono tribe
The Mono are a Native American people who traditionally live in the central Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Eastern Sierra , the Mono Basin, and adjacent areas of the Great Basin.-Culture and geography:...

, viewed the condor as a destroyer, not a creator. They say that Condor seized humans, cut off their heads, and drained their blood so that it would flood Ground Squirrel
Ground squirrel
The ground squirrels are members of the squirrel family of rodents which generally live on or in the ground, rather than trees. The term is most often used for the medium-sized ground squirrels, as the larger ones are more commonly known as marmots or prairie dogs, while the smaller and less...

's home. Condor then seized Ground Squirrel after he fled, but Ground Squirrel managed to cut off Condor's head when Condor paused to take a drink of the blood. According to the Yokut tribe, the condor sometimes ate the moon, causing the lunar cycle, and his wings caused eclipse
Eclipse
An eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs when an astronomical object is temporarily obscured, either by passing into the shadow of another body or by having another body pass between it and the viewer...

s. The Chumash tribe of Southern California believed that the condor was once a white bird, but it turned black when it flew too close to a fire.

Condor bones have been found in Native American graves, as have condor feather headdresses
War bonnet
Feathered war bonnets were worn by honored Plains Indian men, sometimes into battle, but most often for ceremonial occasions, and were seen as items of great spiritual and magical importance...

. Cave painting
Cave painting
Cave paintings are paintings on cave walls and ceilings, and the term is used especially for those dating to prehistoric times. The earliest European cave paintings date to the Aurignacian, some 32,000 years ago. The purpose of the paleolithic cave paintings is not known...

s of condors have also been discovered. Some tribes ritually killed condors to make ceremonial clothing out of their feathers. Shaman
Shamanism
Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. To quote Eliade: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy." Shamanism encompasses the...

s then danced while wearing these to reach the upper and lower spiritual worlds. Whenever a shaman died, his clothes were said to be cursed, so new clothing had to be made for his successor. Some scientists, such as Noel Snyder, believe that this process of making ceremonial clothing helped contribute to the condor's decline. If so, this would be the only known species that was endangered by the California natives.

Cited texts

Database entry includes justification for why this species is critically endangered. [Description of genus Gymnogyps]. ser. 2 6(44): col. 1037

External links