California Condor

Scientific Name:    Gymnogyps californianus

Where is the best place to view California Condors in Monterey County?


California Condors live in California year round and can sometimes be spotted riding thermal updrafts along Highway 1 near Big Sur, California.  Additional areas to look for condors include while hiking in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, Pinnacles National Park and Los Padres National Forest.  


About California Condors

The California condor is the largest flying bird in North America with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet from tip to tip. These huge birds glide on air currents soaring as high as 15,000 feet and at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. Condors catch thermal air currents that rise as the sun heats the ground, and with massive wings can stay aloft for hours. The California condor can be distinguished in flight from other vultures by a large triangular white patch under each wing.  Another telling attribute to identifying a California condor in the wild is a numbered tracking tag prominently displayed on their wings.

The California condor population steadily declined during the 20th century due to contamination from lead fragments in carcasses, poison bait, and environmental pollutants such as DDT. In 1982 the species nearly went extinct with only 22 left in the wild.  These birds were placed in a captive breading program in 1987 with the first successful hatching at San Diego Zoo in 1988.  Reintroduction efforts began in early 1992 and continue today by many organizations.

According to the California Condor Recovery Program within the Department of Fish and Game the population of California Condors is 425 as of October 2014. 206 remain in captivity while 219 live in the wild (116 within California). Ventana Wildlife Society is the only non-profit organization releasing and monitoring this species in California. Ventana Wildlife Society began condor releases in Big Sur in 1997 and then initiated a second release site in 2003 at Pinnacles National Monument in collaboration with the National Parks Service. 


California Condor Fun Facts


  • Largest flying bird in North America with a 10 foot wingspan.
  • A Condor’s head can express emotion - the skin turns a deep red-pink when in courtship or if excited.
  • Can travel 150 miles in a day to get their next meal
  • Spanish explorer Father Antonio de la Ascension recorded the earliest known record for condors with his sighting in Monterey Bay in 1602.
  • When a big meal is available, the birds may gorge themselves so much that they must rest for several hours before flying again and will not eat for two days.
  • The California condor has been protected as an endangered species by federal law since 1967 and by California state law since 1971.
  • Condors do not have talons like hawks; instead they have nails similar to blunt claws.

Diet: Like other vultures, California condors are natures clean up crew by consuming carrion (dead animals carcasses) in the wild. The birds prefer the carcasses of large dead animals like deer, cattle, sheep and beached whales. However, they are also known to eat the carcasses of smaller animals like rodents and rabbits. Condors have a distinct bald head and neck free of plumage. The reason behind the baldness is so that when they are feeding, bacteria and other parts of the carcass do not get stuck in their feathers and cause infection.

Habitat: California condors live in rocky, forested regions including canyons, gorges and mountains. They create their nests in the hollows of large redwood trees. Historically, condors ranged throughout the western United States from Canada to Mexico, with some populations as far east as Florida and New York.  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 eco region in Arizona.

Size: Body: 3.5 to 4.5 feet; Wing span: 9 to 10 feet; Weigh: 18 to 30 pounds

Lifespan: Up to 60 Years

Reproduction: California condors mature and reproduce slowly. Breeding begins between six and eight years old when they are ready to choose a mate for life.  The female lays only one egg every two years. However, if that egg is removed, she will lay a second or a third. With this in mind, scientists have been able to collect eggs for captive incubation.