California Condor Notecard

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Model: NC-267
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California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

Masters of air currents, California Condors majestically sailed the skies for thousands of years until the early 1900s, when their populations plummeted due to lead and pesticide poisoning, shooting and habitat loss. By 1983, only 22 survived in the wild. This prompted a controversial decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to bring the last California Condors into captivity in 1987 for a breeding and release program that continues today.

The largest birds in North America, the wings of the California Condor span an impressive nine feet, allowing them to soar to altitudes of 15,000 feet! Condors pair for life and can live for over 60 years. Unfortunately, they reproduce slowly. Sexually mature by age six, they breed only every other year, laying a single egg on a rocky cliff. The male and female take turns incubating the egg for 60 days, and once it hatches they feed the chick for up to a year. Young condors' black heads gradually turn pink as they mature.

Condors are highly intelligent and social birds, inquisitive and playful. They don't have a syrinx (voice box) like most birds, but communicate with hisses, grunts and body language. They have keen eyesight and fly distances of 150 miles in search of their preferred carrion; carcasses of deer, whales and seals.

California Condors belong to the New World vulture family and are often seen with their relatives, the Turkey Vultures, who have a 6-foot wingspan and rock from side to side while soaring. Condors can be distinguished by their slow, smooth wing beats and very stable soaring pattern. Adult condors have large triangular white patches on their wings and a feathery ruff around the neck.

Through the dedicated work of individuals, government agencies and private foundations in the Condor Recovery Program, the population increased to 240 birds by 2005. Of these, 110 condors live wild in California and Arizona where they are beginning to breed and lay eggs. Biologists monitor their movements, and work to reduce the threats of lead poisoning, poaching and pollution. With the help of this united effort to restore a Critically Endangered species, it is hoped that these magnificent birds will endure to cast their awesome shadow ever wider over the land.

artwork by John Sill ©2005 

text by Kara Jean Hagedorn

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