California condor perched in tree.

California condor

Meet the "thunderbird"

Type

flamingo

Birds

Area

North America

North America

Endangered Status

Endangered

facts

size
9 feet
wingspan
An average bed is 6 feet long.
California condor next to an average bed.

An adult California condor stands about 4 feet tall.

food
meat
carnivore
carnivore

Condors are a type of vulture. They feed on carrion—animals that have died.

habitat
woodland
woodlands

description

California condor flying against a clear blue sky.

Wing power

 

With its huge wings, a flying condor is quite a sight in the sky! Some Native American tribes have stories about how its flapping wings make thunder. That's how these vultures got the nickname "thunderbird."

California condors are mostly feather-free on their heads.

Keeping clean

Most birds have feathered heads, but not condors! Although their bald head looks strange to us, it helps them stay healthy. A feeding condor reaches deep into a dead animal—think of all the mess that makes on their head. They can't groom the top of their head, so feathers there would stay gunked up. Instead, the sun dries the debris until it flakes off, leaving a clean head.

Mule deer are an example of an animal that California condors eat in the wild.

Cleanup crew

By eating animals that have died, condors help to keep disease under control in their habitat. They have very strong stomachs that are not affected by the bacteria in rotting meat. They mostly eat large animals like deer, cattle, and sheep, but they also eat dead rabbits, rodents, and fish. They don't eat every day—sometimes they go two to three days between meals.

A group of California condors.

Manners matter

These birds often gather in groups to feed, and there are "rules" about who eats when! The "boss" birds use body language to tell other condors to wait their turn. Although they don't make many noises, they do grunt and hiss to get their message across. Adult males and females form pairs to build a nest and raise young. They fly alone during most of the year, but will look for the same mate each year.

Vermillion Cliffs, Arizona

Tip-top nests

A cliff ledge, a high cave, or a hole in a very large tree are the kinds of spots condors like to nest in. They don't bring any plant material in—just lay their egg on the floor. They usually only care for one egg each season, but if something happens to that egg, the female lays another. Both the male and female sit on the egg to keep it warm. When the chick hatches, both parents feed and groom their baby.

California condor flying free in Big Sur.

A wing up

In the 1980s, there were only 22 California condors left in the wild. A decision was made to bring them all into a couple of zoos—including the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park—for protection. With our partners, we began breeding condors—and as the population grew, we were able to release some into the wild. Today there are around 500 California condors on the planet, and more than 220 flying free! You can watch a California condor chick grow up on Condor Cam.

unique features

California condor with wings outstretched as it suns itself.
California condor with a bright red head.

red heads

When an adult condor gets excited, its head turns red.

A very large amount of food.

big feast

An adult condor often gorges on 2 to 4 pounds of food at one time!

California condor with white under-wing feathers on display as it soars in the sky.

spotcheck

When it's flying, you can tell a California condor from other vultures by the white, triangle patch under its wings.