The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is a New World vulture and the largest North American land bird. It became extinct in the wild in 1987 when all remaining wild individuals were captured; it has since been reintroduced to northern Arizona and southern Utah (including the Grand Canyon area and Zion National Park), the coastal mountains of California, and northern Baja California in Mexico. The condor is a significant bird to many Californian Native American groups and plays an important role in several of their traditional myths.
The adult California condor is a uniform black with the exception 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 feathers 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 feathers. The condor's head has little to no feathers, which helps keep it clean when feeding on carrion. The skin of the head and neck is capable of flushing noticeably in response to the emotional state. The skin color varies from yellowish to a glowing reddish-orange. The middle toe of the California condor's foot is greatly elongated, and the hind one is only slightly developed. The talons of all the toes are straight and blunt and are thus more adapted to walking than gripping. The female condor is smaller than the male, an exception to the rule among birds of prey.
The California condor used to live throughout the western U.S. from Mexico to Canada, with several populations as far to the east as Florida and New York. The current range includes the southern coastal ranges of California from Big Sur to Ventura County, through the Transverse Range to the east and the southern Sierra Nevada, as well as northern Baja California and Arizona’s Grand Canyon ecoregion. These birds don't migrate and live in rocky shrubland, coniferous forest, and oak savanna. They are often found near cliffs or large trees, which they use as nesting sites.
This species does not flock but they do seem to have some social structure. They cover a large territory when seeking food, before returning to the same roosting or nesting place. The only noises they can make are grunting, growling, and hissing sounds directed at other condors, when in social situations such as group roosting and feeding. If not caring for the young, California condors spend most of their time foraging and roosting. They spend more time roosting than flying, mostly engaged in preening or sunning, the latter usually done first thing each day, warming up when the sun rises. California condors also take much time over grooming: their plumage is kept well-arranged and carefully preened. They clean their bare head and neck after feeding. They bathe in watering holes, cleaning dust and food from their feathers.
California condors are monogamous and pairs stay together for life. They nest in crevices or caves in cliffs, often close to open sites for ease of landing. They do not nest in colonies and breed only once every two years. Females lay a single egg, between February and May. Both parents incubate, for 55-60 days, sharing all nesting duties. Chicks are first covered in white down and have a pink or yellow bare head. The second down covers the head as well and is gray. Condors fledge 6 months after hatching, though depending on their parents for food for several months after fledging. They gain adult plumage by 5-6 years old, reaching reproductive maturity when 8 years old.
Despite being legally protected since 1900, the decline in the 20th century of California condors was the result of human-induced pressures like egg collecting, trapping, shooting, and lead poisoning from the ingestion of carcasses that had been killed with lead shot. Lead poisoning unfortunately still occurs regularly and is the greatest threat to the condor; other threats currently include collisions into power lines, shooting, and accidental as well as deliberate poisoning.
The Defenders of Wildlife resource states that there are about 435 California condors in existence today, with about 237 living wild in Arizona, California, and Baja California, Mexico. According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the California condor is 231 individuals in the wild, including 44 mature individuals. Overall, currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR), but its numbers today are increasing.