Skip to Main Content
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Measurement California Condor
(empty crop)

Males: 8.8 (7.9-9.9) kg // 19.4 (17.4-21.8) lb
Females: 8.1 (7.0-8.9) kg // 17.9 (15.4-19.6) lb

Body length

117-134 cm // 46-53 in


270 cm // 106 in

Wing length 880 (807-915) mm // 35 (32-36) in
Bill length 44.4 (42.1-46.5) mm // 1.7 (1.7-1.8) in
Tail length 355 (330-380) mm // 14 (13-15) in
Tarsus length 109-124 mm // 4-5 in

*Individuals in managed care (13 males, 15 females) weighed repeatedly over multiple years. Managed care-reared and wild-caught birds had comparable weights.

Data sources:
Birdlife International (2015)
Finkelstein et al. (2015) citing Fisher (1944), Brown and Amadon (1968), and weight measurements by Don Sterner (San Diego Zoo Safari Park)

General Appearance

Huge body and wings

  • One of the largest flying birds in North America (Campbell 2015)
  • Body length: 117-134 cm (46-53 in) (Birdlife International 2015)
  • Wingspan: 270 cm (106 in) (Birdlife International 2015)
    • Wing anatomy adapted for soaring rather than flapping flight (D'Elia and Haig 2013)


  • Body (Birdlife International 2015)
    • Adults
      • Black
    • Immatures
      • Dark brown
  • Wings (Birdlife International 2015)
    • Adults
      • White, triangular patches underneath wing
      • Black with some silver-white on top of wing
        • Silver-white less pronounced in younger individuals
    • Immatures
      • Triangular patches underneath wing have dark mottling
      • Tops of wings (Snyder and Snyder 2000; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
        • Transitions from dark brown to gray to white bars
    • Head (Snyder and Snyder 2000; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
      • Coloration and feathering gradually change with age
        • Series of incomplete molts
        • For detailed descriptions, see Finkelstein et al. (2015a)
  • Adult (breeding) coloration complete at 6-7 years of age
    • Some variability; range: 5-8 years of age

Naked head and neck

  • Adults: yellow to orange-red head and pinkish-red neck (Birdlife International 2015; Campbell 2015)
  • Immatures: black head (Birdlife International 2015)
  • Ruff of black feathers around base of neck (Campbell 2015)
  • Proposed adaptations for no feathers on head and neck (vultures, general) (van Dooren 2011)
    • Formerly thought this helped with cleanliness while scavenging
    • May play a role in regulating body temperature


  • Excellent eyesight (D'Elia and Haig 2013)
    • Important for finding carcasses
    • Sense of smell not well-developed


  • Hooked for ripping meat from carcasses (D'Elia and Haig 2013)
  • Changes color with age, from black to ivory (Snyder and Snyder 2000)

Legs and feet

  • Short claws for walking and running rather than gripping (D'Elia and Haig 2013)

Sexual Dimorphism


  • Sexes have similar plumages (Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • All age stages

Body size and weight

  • Males a bit larger than females (Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • On average, weigh about 1.5 pounds more


Similar birds (Finkelstein et al. 2015a)

  • At close range, cannot be mistaken for any other bird
  • When difficult to judge size (seen from far away), can be confused for other raptors:
    • Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
    • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
    • Immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
    • Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

  • Adults with reddish air sacs (Snyder and Snyder 2000)
    • In throat and near breast area
    • Use for courtship and aggressive displays
  • Crop (van Dooren 2011)
    • Stores extra food
    • Anatomically derived from the esophagus
  • Resistance to bacterial toxins (D'Elia and Haig 2013; Finkelstein et al. 2015a)
    • Necessary for feeding on dead and decomposing animals
    • Strong resistance to botulism
  • May secrete excess salt through their nostrils (Koford 1953)
  • Urinate on their legs (“urohydrosis”) to cool down (regulate their body temperature) (Finkelstein et al. 2015a)


a CA Condor body

The dark body plumage, black neck ruffle, bare head, and hooked beak of a California Condor.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.



Wings for Soaring

a CA Condor with wings spread

The wingspan of an adult California Condor is almost 9 feet across.

Their wings are adapted for soaring rather than flapping flight.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

The Eye of the Condor

a CA Condor head

California Condors do not use their sense of smell to find carcasses, as Turkey Vultures do.

Instead, they patrol, looking for carcasses, or watch the behavior of other scavengers to locate food.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

SDZWA Library Links