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California condor

OLogy Series
animal
card
120

California condor

OLogy Series
animal

California condors are the largest birds in North America. Like all vultures, condors are carrion-eaters. This means that they feed only on dead animals they find. They can soar as high as 15,000 feet in the air, and they glide for hours without flapping their wings on hot air currents called thermals. Scientists are working hard to save these endangered birds of the sky.

Avoiding the Deadly ZAP!
Scientists are working hard to save the California condor from extinction. One way that they're trying to do this is by raising condors in captivity, in the hope of releasing them back into their natural habitat. When California condors are ready to be released into the wild, scientists worry that these endangered birds will crash into power lines and die. So, to deal with this potential problem, scientists came up with a program to help train condors. This program involves putting a make-believe power pole in the pen where the young condors live. This pole gives off a very mild electrical charge. When the condors try to land on it, they get a tiny shock. They quickly learn that perching on this pole is not a good idea. Scientists have found that when these specially trained condors are released into the wild, they are much less likely to die from power line collisions.

One kind of poison that has killed many species of wildlife, including the California condor, is:

DDT

TNT

ABC

Are you right?

Correct!

DDT is a deadly pesticide that killed thousands of birds like condors during the 1940s and '50s. It has since been banned, but traces still remain in the soil. Birds that have been poisoned with DDT lay eggs with very thin shells that break at the slightest touch.

How many miles might a condor fly in a day in search of food?

50

150

500

Are you right?

Correct!

To search for decaying animal flesh, a condor may fly as many as 150 miles. Condors have a wonderful sense of smell. They can smell a dead animal miles away!

Scientists use hand puppets to feed condor chicks in zoos.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Scientists use puppets that resemble the adult condor's head when feeding chicks. This tricks the chicks into thinking their feathered mother, instead of a human, is feeding them.

Condors are strict vegetarians, eating only leaves.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Condors feed on the decaying flesh of dead animals. Sometimes farmers poison animals that prey on their livestock. When condors eat these poisoned animals, they die, too.

California condor
Scientific name: Gymnogyps californianus
Wingspan: 8 to 9 feet long Weight: 20 to 23 pounds
Habitat: nests on rocky cliffs in semi-desert lands of areas in the western United States
Diet: carrion (dead flesh of animal carcasses)
Characteristics: bare pinkish skin around the face, and ruffled feathers around the neck
Threats: overhunting and accidental poisonings

Image credits: courtesy of David Clendenen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.