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

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) Fact Sheet: Summary

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) Fact Sheet

A CA Condor

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

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


Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Describer (Date): Shaw (1797)

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Cathartidae

Genus: Gymnogyps

Species: Gymnogyps californianus


Body length: 117-134 cm // 46-53 in

Bill length: 44.4 (42.1-46.5) mm // 1.7 (1.7-1.8) in

Wingspan: 270 cm // 106 in

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

Adults: Black, with white, triangular-shaped patches underneath wings.
Immatures: Dark brown, with mottled, triangular patches underneath wings.
Both sexes have similar plumages.

Head: Naked/bare. Color in adults: orange-red; sometimes with various shades of yellow and pink. Color in immatures: black.

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Range: Primarily southern and central California, Arizona, and Baja California, Mexico; some other western U.S. states

Habitat: Broad habitat and climate tolerances. In mountainous regions: grasslands, woodlands, scrublands, coniferous and deciduous forests, oak savanas. In coastal regions of central California: seashores.

IUCN Status:

  • Critically Endangered (2018 assessment)

CITES Status:

  • Appendix I

U.S. Endangered Species Act:

  • Endangered

Population Estimates: 435 (268 wild, 167 in managed care) (as of December 2015)

Locomotion: Use thermals for soaring flight; flapping flight typical of takeoff and landing only. Agile on the ground: walk, run, hop.

Activity Cycle: Diurnal forager. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon spent foraging. Also spend much of the day perched—preening, with mate or other condors, incubating egg, bathing. Roost and sleep during early morning, evening, and night.

Movements: Make long flights to foraging grounds. Home range influenced by daylength (fly farther to forage when days are longer). Some seasonal changes in movements, but no long distance migration.

Social Groups: Often gregarious at roosts, bathing sites, and foraging sites. Form monogomous mating pairs. Stable pair bonds over many years; may mate for life. 

Communication: Keen eyesight, poor sense of smell. Make few sounds. Primarily use visual and tactile displays to communicate.

Diet: Carrion. Mainly scavenge on medium- and large-bodied mammal carcasses. Deer, livestock, rodents, stranded marine mammals. 

Nestlings: Common Ravens, Golden Eagles, black bears; occasionally coyotes and mountain lions
Adults: mainly humans; infrequently Golden Eagles

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity: 6 to 8 years of age

Clutch Size: 1 egg; a replacement egg is laid if first is removed or damaged early in the breeding season

Egg description:
Oval shape
Color: pale bluish-green that fades to white
Mass: 210-316 g (7.4-11.1 oz)

Incubation Period: 53-60 days

Hatch Weight: 156-205 g (5.5-7.2 oz)

Nestlings and Fledglings: Use nest site 5-6 months, then fledge. Fledglings dependent on parents another 5-6 months. Complete breeding cycle over a year. Fledglings may remain in natal area for two years.

Typical Life Expectancy: long-lived but typical life expectancy not yet known

Feature Facts

  • Largest soaring bird in North America
  • Nearly went extinct in the 1980s and 1990s
  • Major conservation success story; species has recovered from 22 birds in 1982 to 435 birds in 2015
  • Wild populations still require intensive management; lead poisoning and ingestion of trash are most serious threats
  • Long-lived bird species; unknown life span, but possibly to 60-70 years
  • Nests in cliff caves or in tops of broken trees
  • Choosy about nest sites; breeding pairs spend many hours visiting potential nesting locations
  • During courtship, males spread wings and circle females in "wing out display"
  • Chicks playful and very curious when exploring their nest site
  • While foraging, often watch the behavior of other scavengers to locate food
  • Collect and eat bones and shells to help meet the high calcium needs of their diet
  • Usually sleep lying down
  • Urinate on their legs to cool down
  • Frequently bathe in water
  • Historically, was of great spiritual-ceremonial significance to some native peoples of North America

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

  • Has pioneered numerous novel approaches related to California Condor husbandry, captive breeding, reintroduction programs, and management of wild populations.
  • San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and its partners have worked since the 1940s to prevent California Condors from going extinct.
  • In 1983, the San Diego Zoo became the first facility in the world to hatch a California Condor in managed care.
  • In the 1940s, researchers demonstrated ability of Andean Condors to "replacement clutch"; later used in first California Condor captive breeding efforts to increase egg production.
  • Today, California Condors at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, as well as those on the Condorminium's web cam, provide guests with opportunities to learn about wildlife conservation.

About This Fact Sheet

© 2017-2020 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. IUCN Status updated Jun 2019. Population estimates updated Mar 2020.

How to cite: California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) Fact Sheet. c2017-2020. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. californiacondor. 
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2014 Sep 15)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

Note about citations used in this fact sheet: Some information in the Cultural History section of this fact sheet refers to vultures more generally. These facts are noted by "(vultures, general)" appearing before an in-text citation or after a section heading title.


Many thanks to Mike Mace, Curator of Birds at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.

Mr. Mace is responsible for the avian collection and related conservation programs that includes about 20 endangered species. He is a former member of the California Condor Recovery Team and has received awards from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service as an Endangered Species Champion.

Thank you to Michele Gaffney, Associate Nutritionist with the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, for providing information on the diet of California Condors at the Safari Park.

Recommended Reading

California Condors of the Pacific Northwest (book cover)

California Condors in the Pacific Northwest by Jesse D'Elia and Susan M. Haig (2013). Corvallis (OR): Oregon State Univeristy Press.

Superb historical research. Brings strong organization and insight to the complex cultural and conservation history surrounding California Condors. A fascinating book for those just getting acquainted with condors as well as those seeking to deepen their knowledge.

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance staff and volunteers
Email the SDZG Library to request to checkout this book:

SDZWA Library Links