California Condor

California Condor

At a Glance

  • Scientific Name: Gymnogyps californianus
  • Population: 500+
  • IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
  • Trend:  Decreasing
  • Habitat: Rocky, open country over scrubland, coniferous forests, and oak savanna

California Condor map, NatureServeA California Condor in flight is an impressive sight. With a nine-foot plus wingspan, the birds can stay aloft for hours, floating up to 15,000 feet on warm air thermals.

This is North America's largest flying bird, weighing over 20 pounds. Condors can survive up to 60 years in the wild, but don't mature sexually until six or seven years of age and lay only one egg per year. Their slow maturation and reproductive process have been a factor in the bird's decline and near extinction.

To the Brink—and Back

This species dates from the late Pleistocene; as recently as 500 years ago, the California Condor could be seen across the American West, associating with huge herds of bison across the Great Plains. (Grassland birds like Long-billed Curlew were also once associated with bison and now benefit from sustainable grazing of cattle.)

Today, as many people know, the California Condor has been to the brink of extinction—and back. By 1987, habitat degradation, poisoning, and shooting had nearly eliminated the California Condor in the wild. The 22 individuals remaining were captured for captive breeding programs, which are credited with the species' survival. California Condors are now being reintroduced into the wild each year.

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Like all vultures, condors are carrion feeders, preferring large carcasses such as deer, cattle, sheep, and even whales. Where lead ammunition is used by hunters, it can become a major problem for the birds: Spent lead ammunition in gut piles continues to poison many of the reintroduced birds.

California Condor, Joseph Brandt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

California Condor by Joseph Brandt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Advocating for the Ancients

ABC advocates for hunters to switch to non-lead ammunition to help California Condors, as well as the many other bird species—including Golden Eagles—that feed on carcasses left behind by hunters. Some western states, such as California, have adopted regulations to restrict the use of lead ammunition to protect the condor.

California Condors also face risks from collisions with power lines and wind turbines. ABC continues to press the wind energy industry to site turbines carefully in order to minimize threats to condors and other endangered birds such as Whooping Crane. One recent effort put a spotlight on 10 of the worst-sited wind energy facilities from the perspective of bird conservation.

Get Involved

We welcome all and every effort to help us "bring back the birds." If you would like to make a donation, please click here. Or visit our Get Involved page to learn more about how you can help. Together, we can make a difference for this special bird.

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