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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

California Condor -- Gymnogyps californianus

RANGE: Coastal ranges of California from Monterey and San Benito Counties south to Ventura County, ranging, at least casually, north to Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, and east to the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and the Tehachapi Mountains, with breeding sites apparently confined to Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and extreme northern Los Angeles Counties.

STATUS: Endangered. All known individuals are now in captivity.

HABITAT: Inhabited rugged canyons, gorges and forested mountains of southern California mainly between 985 and 8,860 feet in elevation; nested primarily between 2,000 to 4,500 feet in elevation. Spent a great deal of time roosting, preferably on dead conifers 40 to 70 feet tall, but also in live conifers and on cliffs. Needed a long, unobstructed space for taking off downhill from the roost site, which was located in areas protected from the wind, and near food, water, and nest sites.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Tall conifers or cliffs for roosting, open grasslands for feeding, cliffs for nesting, and freedom from human disturbance.

NEST: Nesting areas were characterized by extremely steep, rugged terrain, with dense brush and groves of Douglas-fir surrounding high sandstone cliffs. Nested in a cavity in rock or among boulders on cliffs, with space enough to hold 2 full-grown condors, with perches available for both young and adults, protection from the elements, and space below for taking off.

FOOD: Fed in open grassland because of its need for space for taking flight. Sighted food while soaring over the countryside; 95 percent of diet was carcasses of cattle, sheep, ground squirrels, deer, and horses in any state of decay. Preferred to drink water from clear pools at the tops of waterfalls, but when pressed would obtain water from any source.

REFERENCES: Koford 1953, Mackenzie 1977, Wilbur 1978.

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