In 1986, it was realized that drastic measures would be needed if humans were going to save the California condor form extinction. With only three males remaining in the wild and 22 others left in captivity, an aggressive approach was necessary to save these majestic birds.
Standing at nearly 5 feet tall, weighing up to 31 lbs and with a wingspan of up to 10 feet, the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is one of the largest flying birds in Northern America. Surpassed only in weight and wingspan by the Trumpeter (Cygnus buccinator ) and Mute (Cygnus olor ) Swan. The California condor has an average life span of 60 years, with some documented ones surpassing 80 years; it is also one of the longest living birds.
Recognized by its size, bald head and large white patches under their wings, California condors have been worshiped by Native Americans, used for ritualistic sacrifices and its feathers harvested for capes, but it wasn’t until the Europeans settled in the new world did G. californianus start its downfall. “By 1492 the condor was already retreating westward. Its bones were discovered in Florida early on, and recently its former presence in upper New York state was confirmed by Richard Laub of the Buffalo Museum of Science and David Stedman of the New York State Museum. When the '49ers were trekking to California, the condor had retired behind the Rockies, and it survived into the 20th century only in California and Baja California.” (Ehrlich, Dobkin, & Wheye, 1988)
Fossil evidence suggests that the Cathartid (New World) vultures have been around for quite some time with two fossil species dated from the early Oligocene (about 35 million years ago). During the Pliocene and Pleistocene (about 2 million years ago) there was a great radiation of Cathartid vulture species. Though the G. californianus is the sole survivor of the Gymnogyps genus, a possible ancestral fossil of Gymnogyps kofordi has been discovered in Florida, which dates 1 to 1.5 million year-old. The California condor itself dates from Late Pleistocene epoch (around 40,000 years ago) to modern times with its closest living relative, determined by DNA studies, being the larger Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus), which is in the same family, but a separate genus.
Habitat and Behavior
The California condor lives in rocky scrubland, forested regions, mountains, canyons and gorges. “The species’ current range includes California’s southern coastal ranges from Big Sur to Ventura County, east through the Transverse Range and the southern Sierra Nevada, with other populations in northern Baja California and in the Grand Canyon ecoregion in Arizona.” (Defenders of Wildlife, 2013)
The California condor uses its keen sight in search of large carcasses, such as deer or cattle, although they have been known to eat the carcasses of smaller animals like rodents and rabbits for food, when necessary. Due to their eating habits and having to reach into dead carcasses for their food, they...