Status – Critically Endangered (CR)
Wingspan – Up to 275 centimetres
Weight – 9 kilograms
This enormous bird not only looks weird, it urinates on its own legs to keep cool! Known as ‘urohydrosis’, this wacky behaviour takes excess heat away from the body through evaporation helping this unsavoury character to keep cool in its primarily desert habitat.
Where am I found?
The California condor was originally widespread throughout North America, but by the 1800s they were restricted to the west coast, from British Columbia to Baja California. By the 1970s only 30 were left, all of which were confined to a small area of California. In 1987 the species became Extinct in the Wild when the last individual was taken into captivity. Since then, an extensive conservation effort has been undertaken to re-introduce captive-bred condors back into the wilds of California, Arizona and Mexico.
What do I eat?
Soaring over large distances on their huge wings, condors use their excellent eyesight to search for the carcasses upon which they feed.
How do I live?
In captivity, California condors begin to breed at six to eight years of age, and pairs mate for life, producing one chick every two years. California condors, like many New World vultures, engage in an unusual behaviour known as ‘urohydrosis’ in order to keep cool. This involves urinating on their own legs, which takes heat away from their body through evaporation; the cooled blood is then circulated back through the body. Nests have been recorded in rock cavities as well as in large Sequoia trees.
Why am I threatened?
Originally, the decline of the California condor followed the extinction of many large mammals in North America. Trapping, shooting, egg collecting and lead poisoning are all factors believed to have influenced the decline of this species in the 20th Century, despite legal protection since 1900. Unfortunately, lead poisoning from feeding on animals killed with lead shot, still occurs regularly and remains the condor’s greatest threat. Other current threats include collisions with power lines, shooting, and both deliberate and accidental poisoning.