National Geographic : 1933 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE CALIFORNIA CONDOR (Gymnogyps californianus) The California condor shares with the condor of South America the honor of being the largest living hawklike bird found in the New World, exceeding in size the largest of the eagles, and being much larger than its relatives, the turkey and black vultures. Formerly quite abundant, according to recent estimate by Mr. Harry Harris, possibly ten individuals still exist in Cali fornia. Little is known of them in Baja California, save that Indians hunt them for ceremonial purposes. But it is certain that few remain, and the species is one that may easily become extinct. In days past, the California condor ranged into open valleys and other regions where it was easily accessible, but, to see it now, it is usually necessary to penetrate the wildest and most difficult mountain sections. CONDORS ARE EASILY DISTINGUISHED By those who penetrate its haunts, the condor is confused with no other bird. Straining eyes may examine distant eagles and turkey buzzards, but when a condor is sighted there is no mistaking it for its smaller relatives. Its enormous size and the broad sweep of its wings distinguish it almost at a glance when it is far distant. When nearer at hand it is marked by prominent white patches on the under side of the wings. The condor uses soaring flight as con sistently as does the turkey vulture, but is more a master of the air and can travel at higher speed. The birds range widely over the mountains, but seem to have cer tain limits within which they may be found at all seasons of the year. Several may occur together, except during the nesting season, when they separate into pairs and resent intrusion of others. Although not ordinarily quarrelsome, it is said that, when provoked, the condor can drive the golden eagle from its haunts. The food of the condor is composed of the flesh of dead animals, either fresh or in a state of decay. The feet are not adapted for seizing, but the birds hold down their food while they tear it apart with their strong bills. A diet of carrion would seem to be taken partly because the birds have no other choice. In captivity they are fed on fresh meat, and some individuals, when accustomed to this ration, have refused to take flesh that was at all tainted. The size of the California condor is in dicated by its wing spread, which ranges by actual measurement from 8 feet 4 inches to 9 feet 9 inches. There are nu merous reports of birds with a breadth of wing in excess of the maximum given, but these seem to be based on estimate and have not been substantiated. Though many statements that attribute larger size to the South American condor have been made, authentic measurements indicate that it and the California condor are similar in size. The California condor places its single egg on the bare surface in a recess, cave, or pothole on a rocky cliff, often in a cavern formed by leaning slabs of stone, and formerly was reported nesting in hol low tree trunks and hollow logs. The egg, found from January to March, is white with a bluish or greenish tinge, and measures about 42 by 22 inches, or about the size of the egg of the domestic goose. The young when hatched are covered with white down, except for the head, which is bare. From captive individuals it appears that these birds are not adult until they are more than three years old. Young birds utter curious hissing, growl ing calls, but adults are silent. The nestlings grow slowly and are under parental care for about six months before they are able to fly. They seem to have greater longevity than most birds, since three living in captivity in the National Zoological Park in Washington, D. C., are now thirty years or more old. AGES AGO THIS MIGHTY BIRD RANGED EAST TO FLORIDA The California condor in historic times ranged from the Columbia River south along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, and from Humboldt County, in the same State, through the Coast Ranges into northern Baja California, extending casually into Oregon, Washington, and southeastern California. It is now confined to the Coast Ranges in northern Ventura County, southwestern Kern County, and southeastern Santa Barbara County, and to the San Pedro Martir Range of northern Baja Cali fornia. Its bones are found in ancient caves in Texas, Nevada, and New Mex ico, and in Ice Age deposits in Florida.