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California Condor

North America

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Gymnogyps californianus

Endangered

  • Human-initiated Lead poisoning
  • Direct hunting
  • Electrocution
  • Low clutch size (number of eggs)
  • Late sexual maturity
  • Death by predation

With a weight of up to 25 pounds and a wingspan of almost 10 feet, the California Condor is considered as the largest land bird in North America and one of the largest flying birds in the world. It can fly up to 15,000 feet with a flying speed of up to 55 miles per hour, making it commonly referred to as a thunderbird.

It inhabited the vast remote countryside of California, Arizona, and Utah – nesting high on cliff ledges and holes of large trees in oak savannas, rocky shrub-lands, and redwood forests. Unlike hawks or eagles, the California Condor does not have talons but blunt claws instead which are not designed for grasping or carrying prey. And unlike turkey vultures, it doesn’t have a keen sense of smell either. However, it has extraordinary eyesight which it uses for locating its food.

It is characterised as having thick black feathers all over its body except for its bald head and featherless neck which are pink in colour. The large white patch under its wing is what distinguishes the California Condor from other types of vultures.

This New World vulture has been declared as extinct in the wild in 1987 with all its remaining 22 individuals living in captivity back then.

Clutch size, or the number of eggs that a nesting pair of bird produces for every mating season, plays a major role in the endangerment status of the California Condor. Because it only reaches sexual maturity until after six or seven years of age and that it only lays a single egg every one or two years, it makes it difficult to increase its population.

Lead poisoning is another contributing factor why this carrion-eating vulture species is fast declining in number. The use of lead-based ammunition by hunters within the habitat range of the California Condor means it is likely to eat game waste whose bodies are filled with fragmented lead bullets. And this bird’s highly acidic digestive juices increase lead absorption which results to instant death or shorter lifespan.

Though the California Condor has few natural predators due to its size, its eggs and hatchlings are attractive prey options for coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, and golden eagles. Nestling condors may also die from ingestion of trash brought by the parents. Electrocution, direct hunting, and human-initiated poisoning are also other reasons for high mortality rate and slow population recovery.