Iconic and intimidating, the California condor is the largest land bird in North America
It has suffered at the hand of persecution, lead poisoning and habitat destruction. In 1987 the 27 remaining wild birds were taken into a captive breeding programme. Reintroduction began in 1991, and has led to the wild population increasing to ~500 birds. In 2003 the first chick successfully fledged from a nest cave in the wild since the reintroduction – with consistent conservation attention and a more open dialogue on the use of lead-based ammunition, the species will hopefully reach a steady and healthy population. To maintain the current small population condors are monitored and treated for lead poisoning, without which the population would likely crash again. The condors ingest the lead from animals wounded or killed with lead-based ammunition; which builds up in their system to toxic levels. Their lifestyle; not breeding until they are at least six years old, and only having one chick once every other year, leaves them vulnerable to changes in their habitats. The California condor is the sole member of its genus Gymnogyps, and within its family Cathartidae (the New World vultures) all but one of the seven genera are monotypic. The California Condor has also held mythological and cultural significance to Native American tribes, and interestingly the perception of it differs from tribe to tribe.
- Order: Cathartiformes
- Family: Cathartidae
- Population: 435
- Trend: increasing
- Size: 110-140 cm
- Weight: 8-14kg
Historically the species had a large range down the West coast of North America. However, by 1937 the range had contracted to California only. To ensure the survival of the species, in 1987 all the remaining wild birds were placed in a captive breeding programme.
Habitat and Ecology
The condor is now found in remote and irregularly wooded hills and open-country scrubland with of rocky terrain. Breeding sites are rocky outcrops, the cavities of large trees, or cracks in the cliffs. They mainly scavenge on the carcasses of large mammals, but are also known to feed on dead rodents and rabbits. They roost on tree branches and along cliff ledges, often communally, although they do not nest communally and will defend their nesting area aggressively. The females lay a single egg every second year.