Birds – California Vulture

By far the largest of the species found in the United States is the California Vulture (Gymnogyps californianus), or Condor, as it is frequently called. It is from forty-four to fifty-five inches in length, with an extent of wings of from eight and one-half to eleven feet, while the weight is from twenty to twenty-five pounds. The color is dull black with the wing-feathers edged and tipped with grayish or white, producing a conspicuous white area which is visible when the bird is soaring. The bare portion of the head is yellowish or orange. The California Vulture is almost confined to the state of California, extending formerly as far north as the Columbia River, and south into the peninsula of Lower California and possibly into northwestern Mexico. It has apparently never been an abundant species and has been persecuted in recent years to such an extent that it has become extremely rare, if not indeed on the verge of total extermination. This unfortunate decrease in numbers has been principally caused by poison which has been placed on carcasses of animals by stockmen as a means of ridding the country of bears, panthers, wolves, coyotes, etc. It has now become not only rare but extremely shy, and several Californian ornithologists have never seen it in a wild state. It nests in wild and inaccessible localities, principally among rugged rocks and cliffs, choosing usually a cavern or crevice in the rocks often hundreds of feet from the ground. The egg, for it usually lays but one, is of a uniform light grayish green color and unspotted.

As might be expected, it is of great size, measuring about four and one half by two and one half inches, and holding some nine fluid ounces of water. Only about twenty of these eggs are said to be preserved in collections, a far less number than is known of the long extinct Great Auk. At a recent meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union (November, 1906), Mr. William L. Finley presented a paper, illustrated by a superb series of photographs, in which he re-counted the life history of a California Condor from the moment of leaving the egg until the bird was practically full grown. At first, the parent birds were very shy, but repeated visits to the nest (a cave in the precipitous wall of a canyon) for the purpose of photographing the young bird so tamed them that they permitted themselves to be “taken” by the camera at a distance of only five or six feet, displaying not the least concern. Many curious anecdotes of this bird were related, such as its fondness for bathing and for human society, its rejection of any food but fresh beef, its method of trying its wings, etc. This bird, named the General, is now in the New York Zoological Park.