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California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet

Food

  • Mainly scavenge on medium- and large-bodied mammal carcasses (Collins et al. 2000; D'Elia and Haig 2013; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
    • Includes livestock (cattle, horses, pigs, etc.) and stranded marine mammals (esp. during the 19th century)
    • Also, rodents
    • Recent years: mule deer and coyotes killed by humans
  • Will scavenge on small mammals, if abundant at one site (Birdlife International 2015)
  • Prefer fresh carcasses (Snyder and Snyder 2000; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
  • Feed on soft tissues (low in calcium)
  • Have high calcium needs (Collins et al. 2000; Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • Actively collect and eat bones and other calcium-rich objects
      • Bones from smaller carcasses (rodents)
      • Shells and/or shellfish
  • Bring trash to nest sites (Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
    • Unclear why
    • Plastics, glass, Styrofoam, wire, metal

Water (Koford 1953; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)

  • Drink, particularly after feeding
    • Find water pools in rocks, potholes, cattle troughs, and waterfalls
    • Can go a day or two without drinking
  • Females fill their crop prior to egg-laying
    • Benefit unknown

Feeding

Foraging

  • Search for food
    • Circle in flight, singly or in loose groups, several hundred feet above landscape (Snyder and Snyder 2000; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
    • Often watch the behavior of other scavengers to locate food (Snyder and Snyder 2000; D'Elia and Haig 2013)
      • Turkey Vultures, Common Ravens, and Golden Eagles
    • Do not locate carcasses using sense of smell, as do Turkey Vultures
  • Feed in multiple areas, taking advantage of locally abundant food (e.g., due to disease outbreaks) (Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • Not dependent on one feeding area
  • Fill crop (adaptation in birds for food storage)
    • On average, takes 20 min (range: 10-30 min) (Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
  • Do not need to eat every day (Snyder and Snyder 2000; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
    • Must obtain a meal every 2-3 days to maintain their body weight
    • Can survive at least 1-2 weeks without food

Group interactions

  • Congregate in large groups around food or water (Snyder and Snyder 2000; D'Elia and Haig 2013)
    • Feed in groups
    • Compete for food
  • Dominance hierarchies at feeding sites (D'Elia and Haig 2013; Sheppard et al. 2013; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
    • Among ranks
      • Fluidity in social status among middle and lower ranks
      • Dominant birds frequently act agonistically to maintain status
    • Among age and sex classes
      • Juveniles subordinate to adults
      • Young males may supplant older females
    • Among species
      • California Condors generally dominant over Turkey Vultures and Common Ravens
      • Typically at top of feeding hierarchy, unless Golden Eagles present
        • Golden Eagles smaller but have powerful talons
        • California Condors may be excluded from feeding by Golden Eagles
          • May give up and leave to find food elsewhere
        • May challenge and displace Golden Eagles when very hungry

Feeding Site

group of CA Condors

California Condors often feed together at carcasses. However, these social groupings are emphemeral.

Image credit: © Chuck Bert/Macaulay Library. Use in accordance with Macaulay Library media use guidelines.

Location: California, USA

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