Now one of the most endangered species in the world, the California Condor once ranged more widely across North America. Captive breeding and reintroduction efforts have made progress, and reintroduced birds are now occupying several parts of the California Condor’s historic range both within and outside of California.
California Condors are not able to breed until age six to eight, they lay only a single egg, and they cannot breed every year. With such a low capacity for reproduction, birds must survive for many years if the population is to be maintained or grow. Mortality from shooting, as well as poisoning from lead bullets in animal carcasses and spilled antifreeze have led to the small number of condors remaining.
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Description of the California Condor
The California Condor is a very large, highly endangered vulture. It is mostly black with white wing linings and a tan to orange bare head.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles are similar to adults but have darker wing linings and heads.
Rugged open country.
Forages by soaring until a dead animal is found.
Reintroduced birds in California and Arizona are the only condors in the wild.
Once more widespread in the western U.S. and some locations farther east, shootings and poisonings led to its decline.
Intensive captive breeding and reintroduction efforts have been underway for decades, and recent releases give hope that this species might become reestablished.
Generally silent, although hissing and snorting is sometimes done.
Turkey Vultures are much smaller, have red heads, and lack white wing linings.
The nest is a few pebbles on a flat cave surface.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 56 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) in 150-180 days after hatching but remain with the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the California Condor
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the California Condor – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
GYMNOGYPS CALIFORNIANUS (Shaw)
Far from the haunts of man, in the wilder portions of southern California, among the most rugged and rocky gorges and canyons of the less frequented mountain ranges, this magnificent vulture, the largest and grandest of its tribe, still survives. Here in the remote vastness of the untamed wilderness it still finds comparative freedom from the dangers of advancing civilization and may long continue to exist. To see one of these great birds in the solitude of its native haunts gives a thrill well worth the time and effort required. Few have enjoyed the experience, and many are not equal to the task. Only once have I had the opportunity, on March 17, 1929, when the Peyton brothers guided us to the home of the condors in the mountains of Ventura County. It was a long hard climb up a steep, brush-covered slope to the top of a ridge and then a long walk down a wooded mountain trail to the head of a deep rocky canyon. From the trail we could look across the canyon to the rocky summits of the mountains, the home of the condors, where we were delighted to see four of the great birds soaring above the summits or sitting on the rocks. Once two of them sailed over us, near enough for us to see their yellow heads and the conspicuous white patches in their wings. As the trail dipped down into the canyon we found ourselves in the bed of a rocky mountain stream, where we separated to visit three former nesting sites of the condors. My party scrambled down the rough bed of the stream and then up a very steep, rocky slope, climbing over the rocks and clawing our way over or around cliffs, for an hour and a half, until we reached a huge, irregular boulder perched on the shoulder of the mountain, near the top. Under this boulder, in more or less remote cavities, were three old nesting sites of the California condor, one of which was quite open and visible from the outside. L. G. Peyton said that the condors had not nested under this rock for several years, but the nests smelled and looked as if they had been occupied more recently. I brought home three large black feathers as trophies.
The California condor has never enjoyed a wide distribution, being confined mainly to the hot interior valleys and mountains of California, west of the Sierra Nevada. It formerly ranged north to the Columbia River and even Vancouver Island, as a straggler; its range also extended south into northern Lower California. With the spread of civilization in California its numbers have been steadily reduced and its range gradually restricted to the few remote localities where it is still found. Several of the earlier writers on California birds noted the alarming decrease and predicted its early extinction. I doubt if it was ever an abundant species, as compared with the other vultures, although “Dr. Canfield informed Dr. Cooper that he has seen as many as one hundred and fifty of these birds at one time and place in the vicinity of antelopes he had killed” (Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway). William R. Flint wrote to Major Bendire (1892): “The largest number I have ever seen at one time during late years was in the summer of 1884, when I saw fourteen together.” Major Bendire himself had seen “from six to fifteen on several occasions” in Inyo County. Mrs. Bailey (1902) says that “in 1894 Mr. Stephens actually encountered a flock of twenty-six of these magnificent birds.” I was told of 17 being seen at one time recently in Ventura County. The birds seem to be holding their own in certain restricted localities and might survive permanently if rigidly protected and if poisoning were stopped.
Nesting: For most of our information on the home life of the condor we are indebted to William L. Finley (1906), who found a nest in the mountains of southern California on March 10, 1906; by making many subsequent visits to it, he gave us a very interesting life history study of this species. lIe describes the nest as follows: “We climbed to the rock above and found it was a huge bowlder set well into the mountain. Against this was leaning a big stone slab about ten feet high. This left a space about two by six feet and open at each end. This cave was lined with leaves and fine rock and in the middle was one big egg. We thought it was not far from hatching by its glossy surface and the tenacity with which the mother stayed on her nest.”
The condor is no nest builder but lays its single egg on the bare soil, gravel, or rocky floor of some more or less inaccessible cave or crevice in a cliff, or under rocks or boulders on the side of a mountain canyon. Sometimes the crevice is barely large enough to admit the bird and at other times it is quite open. H. R. Taylor (1895) tells of a nest in a large open cave “about 20 feet wide, 30 feet high, and 16 feet deep” in a cliff 120 feet high on the south side of a mountain. “The nest was on the bare stone. In front was a slight ridge of decomposed stone, which had been raked up by the bird to keep the egg from rolling out, while on the other side was the bare rock.” Bendire (1892) mentions, apparently on hearsay evidence, “the eggs having been laid in the hollow of a tall old robles oak, in a steep barranca, near the summit of one of the highest peaks.” Again be says that “it is possible that at times they make use of the abandoned nests of the Golden Eagles.” Both of these statements seem doubtful and need confirmation.
A nest found in San Luis Obispo County is thus described by W. L. Dawson (1923):
The aperture of the nesting cave was midway of the face of a sloping stretch of sandstone, not too steep, perhaps, for inspection without the aid of a rope, but too steep for comfortable work. The entrance was just twelve inches high in the clear and nineteen inches wide; but the struggles of the emerging birds had broken out fragments of the thin wall on each side, so that three inches of this total width was plainly “artificial.” This opening gave access to a lens-shaped cavity some six feet in horizontal depth by ten in length and two or two and a half feet high in the clear. The floor was of fine dry sand several Inches In depth, and upon this at the remotest distance a baby Condor hissed and roared.
There are three California condors confined in a large flying cage in the National Zoological Park in Washington. They were received, as birds of the year, in 1901 and 1903. Two of them are supposed to be a mated pair. When about 12 years old one of these birds laid an egg on the bare floor of a large wooden shelter, and she has continued to lay an egg nearly every year since. But the eggs have never hatched, even when placed in an incubator.
Eggs: The California condor lays only one egg in a season; and apparently it does not lay every year; hence it reproduces very slowly. The egg is quite elongated, varying in shape from elliptical-ovate to elongate-ovate. The shell is finely granulated and without gloss when fresh; after it has been incubated for some time it becomes smoother and glossier. Some specimens have small pimples or wartlike excrescences on the surface. The color is plain greenish white, bluish white, or dull white. The measurements of 46 eggs average 110.2 by 66.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 120 by 68, 110.5 by 71, 102.4 by 67.4, and 103.6 by 62.9 millimeters.
Young: The period of incubation is said to be from 29 to 31 days. Whether both sexes incubate does not seem to be known.
Mr. Finley (1906) was fortunate enough to begin his study of the young bird at the very beginning, for on his second visit the condor chick had only recently hatched. He writes:
When we climbed over where we could look between the rocks and see Into the cave, the old bird was on. I went closer and could see her bald head of orange color, and the great black bird still sat on the nest. I climbed up within four feet of her and whistled and yelled till she rose on her feet. She looked so big that I shrank back at the thought of her pitching in to defend her young, for when she rose, I glanced in and saw a youngster not larger than the egg [see pL 3]. His head was bald like his mothers, but baldness did not signify age in this case, aitho his head was fleshy-pink In color. He was weak for he could hardly kick, and he seemed to raise his head with difficulty as he cried out in a wheezing, hissing note. Beside him lay the end of the egg from which he had emerged not many hours before. He was not yet dry. He was not even well clothed, for behind his little wings, the flesh was bare and his belly was bare, while the rest of his coat was down of pure white.
At first the mother arose and her neck feathers ruffled up in anger. Then as her baby began to squirm, she put her head down and covered him partly with her bare neck.
Being unable to scare the old bird from the nest and wishing to photograph the young one, Mr. Finley gently removed the young bird. The little fellow became so chilled during this process that its mother would not accept it. Mr. Finley revived it with the heat from his own body and returned it to the nest again. “For an instant she paid no attention to him, but just then he began to stir and wriggle. Her eyes changed from their vacant stare; she suddenly seemed to recognize her nestling, and putting her bill down she drew him gently near, crouching down at the same time and finally drawing him under her breast.”
When Mr. Finley (1908) made his third trip to the nest, on April 11, 1906, the young condor was 19 or 20 days old. He says:
When we climbed around to the nest, we found the condor nestling had grown from the size of the egg, or from about a double handful, till he filled my hat. The down on his body had changed color from a pure white to a light gray. Instead of the flesh color on his head and neck, It had changed to a dull yellow. He sat with his shoulders humped and his head hung as if In the last stage of dejection. The minute he saw me, he began crying In a note most peculiar for a bird, for It sounded exactly like the hoarse tooting of a small tin horn. However, he only used this note a few times; then he began hissing. He showed his resentment by drawing In his breath and letting it escape as If thru his nose. His feet were short and stubby, the feet of a scavenger. What a deterioration from the eagle! The claws were like those of a chicken rather than a bird of prey. The head, the bill and even the look In the eye were very different from the savage expression of the eagle even in his babyhood.
On April 25, they found the old bird sound asleep in the nest, brooding the nestling; after she left the youngster showed fight.
The young condor was growing steadily, for he was now thirty-five days old and as large as a good-sized chicken [see p1. 3]. His whole body was covered with dark gray down with the outer edgings of lighter gray. When I put down my elbow, he lunged forward and struck it such a hard blow with his hill that it would have drawn blood had he bit my bare hand. The minute I appeared, his neck puffed out with wind and his whole crop filled till it felt just like a rubber ball, lie seemed to use his crop as a supply tank for air, which he blew out siowly thru his nose to express his anver. He sat with his head down and mouth open. The front part of his tongue was round and it folded over from each side and met In a little crease down the front. About an Inch back, it looked as if it were partly cut in two, for it was narrower and flatter. Such a breath as that youngster had I could not describe it, and I tried to forget it as soon as possible.
That evening we watched the old condor to see if she would go back to the nest. But at sIx o’clock she settled down on her perch with her head drawn in, and went to sleep. The young condor had to sleep alone.
Of the later development of the young condor Mr. Finley (1908) says: “The young condor was now fifty-four days old, but he was still clothed in gray down [see p1. 4]. It was over two months before the first black feathers began to show on his wings, and they developed very slowly; for by the first week in July when we had expected to complete our series, the young bird was not half feathered out, aitho he was three months and a half old and weighed over fifteen pounds.”
By July 6 the young condor was about two-thirds grown. and was transported to Mr. Finley’s home in Oregon. He was fed twice a day with about a pound of raw meat and given plenty of water. He showed a decided preference for fresh beef and would reject anything else, unless forced by hunger; he especially disliked any stale or tainted meat. He made a most interesting pet and was very tame, affectionate, and playful. By the middle of August he “was well fledged except that his breast was still covered with gray down. By another month this was replaced by brown feathers. With wings extended, he measured over eight feet. He weighed twenty and a half pounds and was forty-six inches in length. The wing feathers were strong, but they could not yet support his heavy body, for as yet he could fly but a few yards.” (P1. 4.) On September 29, 1906, General, as he was named, went to New York to take up permanent quarters in the New York Zoological Park. His former master was not forgotten, however, for Mr. Finley (1910) writes:
During the month of December, 1906, while I was in New York, I went out to see General and was allowed to enter the cage with him. The minute I got near enough, he began nibbling niy buttons and putting his head under my arm.
I did not see the young condor again until December 6, 190e, when I was In New York. I again entered his cage and found him as friendly and affectionate as ever. He nibbled the buttons on my coat and wanted to be petted. I was very much surprised to find that he showed no signs of bright color about his head, as It was covered with short gray down. He had been In good health, but at the age of almost three years he had not acquired the bright coloring of his parents. It is interesting to note that the head of a newlyhatcht condor, as well as that of the old bird, Is perfectly bald; yet the head of the Immature condor for the first few years Is covered with a thick coat of furry down.
Plumages: The foregoing quotations from Mr. Finley’s articles tell us all we know about the development of plumages in the young condor, white down at first, followed by gray down, the first plumage appearing during the fourth month.
Even at three years of age the condor’s head was still covered with gray down, showing none of the bright colors of the adult. Mr. Finley (1908) describes the colors of the adult as follows:
Their bills were of dark horn color and the red skin of the head extended down covering the bill about half way. The feet were of similar color, but on each knee was a patch of red. There was a brighter patch of red on the breast of each bird, which could occasionally be seen when they were preening end when they spread their breast feathers. Both had light-colored wingbars and the primaries were well worn. The skin on the throat hung loose and the lower mandible fitted in close under the upper, giving the bird a peculiar expression. The chin was orange and below this on the neck was a strip of greenish-yellow merging into brighter orange on the sides and back of the neck. The top and front of the head were bright red, but between the eyes was a small patch of black feathers, and these extended down in front of tile eye till they faded Into the orange red of the neck. The pupil of the eye was black, but the iris was deep red and conspicuous. The top of the head was wrinkled as If with age. The ruff, or long shiny black feathers about the neck, was often ruffled up, giving the bird a savage appearance. Behind the ruff on the back the feathers were edged with dark brown.
I have not seen enough material to work out the molts of adults, but, as the parents referred to above were in worn plumage in July and as Mr. Finley (1908) saw a third bird with feathers missing from wings and tail, a complete molt probably occurs late in summer. Experience with the birds in the National Zoological Park suggests that even in a wild state the young birds require a long time to reach the breeding age. Young birds show little or no white in the under wing coverts.
Food: Mr. Finley’s young condor was a very clean feeder, rejecting any meat that was not fresh or the bodies of dead game birds and mammals. When the flesh of squirrels or birds was mixed with fresh beef, he would always pick out the beef and leave the other things. But the California condor is a vulture and naturally has food habits similar to those of other vultures, though it probably prefers to feed on a freshly killed animal. Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1905) have covered the subject very well, as follows:
Often when hunting in the Tejon Valley, if unsuccessful, they would be several hours without seeing one of this species; but as soon as they succeeded In bringing down any large game, these birds would he seen rising above the horizon before the body had grown cold, and slowly sweeping towards them, Intent upon their share of the game. In the absence of the hunter, unless well protected, these marauders will be sure to drag out from Its concealment the slain animal, even though carefully covered with branches. Dr. Heermann states that he has known them to drag out and devour a deer within an hour. This vulture possesses Immense muscular power. Dr. Heermann has known four of them to drag the body of a young grizzly boar, that weighed over a hundred pounds, the distance of two hundred yards. Dr. Cooper states that It visits the Columbia River In autumn, when its shores are lined with great numbers of dead salmon, on which, In company with other birds and various animals, it feasts for a couple of months.
Behavior: The flight of the California condor is a superb exhibition of graceful ease and grandeur as it floats steadily along on its great wings, a powerful and skillful master of the air. On account of its great size its flight seems slow, but it really travels very fast; a mere speck in the distant sky rapidly develops into a great black bird, sweeping overhead with seven or eight strokes of its white-lined wings, curved upward at the tips, followed by prolonged periods of graceful sailing, until, all too soon, it disappears in the distance. From its perch on a tree or rock the bird launches itself with a few great flaps into a glorious sailing flight; but when rising from the ground it must run, hop, and flap along for 50 or 00 feet before taking the air, much like the take-off of an airplane. Then it soars in wide circles, mounting higher and higher on the ascending current~ of warm air, until it is almost lost to sight in the ethereal blue. illustrating its mastery of the air, Mr. Dawson (1923) relates the following incident, as witnessed by Claude C. L. Brown:
Just because the sails of this bird are so accurately trimmed for the utilization of light breezes, the craft Itself Is unable to make headway against a strong wind. Not even by flapping can the. Condor negotiate a breeze above a certain intensity. What the bird does In such an emergency is best told by Brown, who was once present on a quite critical occasion. Presently he descried four Condors approaching from the far northeast, hut before they came up a smart breeze sprang up from the southwest, and presently It whistled over the peaks with increasing fury. The birds were baffled on the very last mile of their approach. They tacked back and forth, down wind, or struggled valiantly in the teeth of the gale, only to be swept away again and again. The cold sea breeze had It In for them, and though it was only midafternoon, it began to look to the observer like a case of sleeping out that night. But off to the southeastward some twenty or thirty miles, the Carisso plains lay baking in the sun. The focal point of this great oven was sending up a huge column of heated air, as evidenced by clouds slowly revolving at the height of a mile or so above the plain. What followed can best be given in Mr. Brown’s own words: “Presently one of the Condors gave up the fight, sailed a mile or so to the eastward, and, after circling to gain elevation, made away in a bee-line for the southeast. In a short tline the other three went through the same manoeuver and followed after their companion. I now brought my telescope into action and I never took the glass off the birds although they became mere specks in the sky. The Condors did not swerve from their course until they entered the spiral cloud. Upon Striking that ascending column of air they rose rapidly, apparently without effort, as a balloon might rise, being now and again lost to view in the fleecy folds of ascending vapor, until within an incredibly short space of time they emerged above the clouds, Into a higher region of absolute clearness, say three miles above the earth. Here they must have found themselves well above and quite free from the lower currents of air which had plagued them, for now they sailed straight to the westward, descended and: glided triumphantly homeward on the wings of their ancient enemy, the southwest gale! “I do not think that more than thIrty minutes had elapsed from the time the Condors gave up the fight till they were safely at roost In their rookery; yet these birds must have traveled somewhere from fifty to seventy miles to accomplish their purpose, and the whole performance took place without the flap of a wing.”
Audubon (1840) quotes J. K. Townsend as saying: “In walking they resemble a Turkey, strutting over the ground with great dignity; but this dignity is occasionally lost sight of, especially when two are striving to reach a dead fish, which has just been cast on the shore; the stately walk then degenerates into a clumsy sort of hopping canter, which is any thing but graceful.”
California condors are generally considered to be very shy birds; most observers have been unable to approach them near enough for an effective shot with a gun or even a rifle; but there are exceptions to the rule. W. R. Flint in 1884, was able to approach to within 30 yards of a flock of 14, according to Bendire (1892); and Dr. Cooper (1890) walked right up to an apparently healthy adult bird and could have killed it with a hammer. Mr. Finley (1908) won the confidence of the pair of condors that he studied, as is amply illust.rated in the marvelous series of pictures he and Mr. Bohiman took within a few feet of them. These birds were very gentle and affectionate with each other and with their offspring. Mr. Finley (1908) writes:
While ascending the steep slope to the nest, a large bowider was accidentally loosened and narrowly missed taking the camera man along as It dropped into the canyon with a loud report. The next moment, the old condor, aroused from her nest, flapped to her perch in the dead tree directly over our heads. We watched and waited, hoping she would return to the nest. But after about fifteen minutes, she raised her wings, hooked her bUl about the stump, parrot fashion, and climbed to a higher perch. We crawled on up behind a cover of rocks to get a pIcture. Wblle fixing the camera, I looked up and the old male was just alighting beside hIs mate on the dead tree. We crouched down to watch. If the birds saw us, they paid no attention to our presence. The mother edged along the limb and put her head under his neck. Then she nosed him as if asking to be fed, but he responded rather coldly by moving away and she followed. This crowded him out where the limb was too small, and he jumped across back of her. He seemed to get more friendly and the two sat there side by side, nibbling and caressing each other.
He says also that “they were almost devoid of fear, for several times they stood within five or six feet of us in perfect unconcern.” But they were not so friendly to a third condor that twice appeared on the scene; once the old male condor gave chase and eventually drove the intruder away.
Mr. Finley’s condors were very clean about their nest, and the young captive bird seemed to be very fond of clear running water. A. M. Shields (1895) says: “The California Condor is a much cleaner bird than is generally accredited, as one of its favorite habits is to assemble on the bank of some secluded mountain pool and spend hours at a time in bathing and standing around the margin of the clear, cold water. Hunters on coming upon a far removed body of water in localities frequented by the birds, often find numbers of immense feathers around the edge of the stream, discarded by the birds during some of their fresh-water baths.”
Carroll Dewilton Scott contributes the following notes:
As in the case of most birds and animals with strong Individualities, condors appear to be fond of play. In the wild state this most often takes the form of swooping down at anotber condor. The other bird never seems to resent it and parries the pretended stroke with a deft turn of the body. After swooping at each other several times both birds will presently be sailing about in intersecting circles. One day while I was watching a pair about their nesting cave, both birds lit on neighboring rocks. After a few minutes one of them swung toward the other, and both navigated for a quarter of a mile, first one, then the other, making the dashes. At length they turned and calmly glided back to their respective lookouts. On another occasion, in winter, I was watching a group from a mountain ridge. Presently three immature condors came gliding overhead, their wings partly bowed, making a rushing sound like a stormwind through pine trees. As indicated by their future movements they were not going anywhere in particular. They were just playing. One of them evidently was surprised to see me, for he tried to turn so suddenly that he almost turned a somersault. But he recovered his balance and sailed back over me, then bowed his wings again and shot away in pursuit of his companions. In captivity, condors are fond of toying with bones, ribbons, or pieces of paper, no doubt to relieve the tedium of imprisonment. One day a friend of mine and I played for half an hour with a condor at the San Diego Zoo. His kittenish antics were laughable as he thrust his head along the sand or stuck his beak through the wire meshes of his cage coaxing us to give him attention.
Field marks: The immense size of the California condor, larger than even the golden eagle, and the white under wing coverts are the most conspicuous characters. Its wings measure 9 or 10 feet in extent, and when the bird is soaring the tips of the primaries are curved upward and slightly forward. If near enough the brightly colored head may be seen. Young birds have darker under wing coverts and dusky heads and necks.
Enemies: The condor has no enemies of consequence except man; and man has gone a long way toward the extermination of this grand species. It seems to be a common trait in human nature to want to kill any large creature, and in the early days when these birds were unsophisticated many were wantonly killed. Poisoned carcasses set out to destroy predatory animals killed a great many of them. Many condors were killed for their quills, which were useful for carrying gold dust. In the early days it was easy to kill them with a rifle or even with a shotgun loaded with buckshot. Sometimes, when gorged with food, they could be lassoed or even killed with some missile thrown at them. Mr. Shields (1895) says:
Among the latter contrivances for their destruction, one of the most frequently employed was “penning.” This consisted of four-sided portable pens about six feet square and five in height. These were placed in convenient localities with the carcass of a sheep or goat temptingly displayed within; the voracious bird would soon spy the tempting morsel, and settle down for a feast, but when he came to rise it was different, as the small diameter of the pen absolutely ‘prevented the full stretching of his wings, and, being unable to make the upright leap of four or five feet, he was a secure prisoner and an easy prey to the herder and his club, when making the rounds of his traps. It was strange that this bird, so conspicuously wary at the present time, should In those days have manifested so little of that quality, as certain It is that the traps would constantly claim their victims practically as long as the birds held out.
There is a modern menace in the high-tension power lines, on which many large birds are electrocuted by making a contact across the wires when they spread their wings. As I have not seen such casualties mentioned, perhaps the condors have not learned to alight on such dangerous perches. Public sentiment now seems to favor the condor, and, as it is protected by law, we hope it will long continue to survive in the wilder portions of California, as one of the many glories of the Golden State.
Carroll IDewilton Scott has sent me the following interesting notes on the condor-killing ceremony practiced in primitive times by the southern California Indians, as one of several mourning festivals:
Three birds were used as convenience dictated, the bald and golden eagles and the California condor. One idea back of the ceremony was that the spirits of the dead, especially the spirits of children, could mount to the Indian’s heaven on the wings of great fliers like the eagle and the condor. Another was that the bird was a messenger from the living to the dead. Though an authentic and picturesque incident in the life history of the condor, there Is no evidence that it played the least part in the destruction of condors that took place mainly between 1875 and 1895, when Americans were rapidly settling the State.
The essential part of the ceremony was as follows: The Indians gathered around a campfire in the evening. Groups of 10 or 20 Indians, under leaders skilled in singing ancient songs and executing dances relating to the mythology of the ceremony, would perform. The dancing and singing continued until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. About this time the bird was brought in and danced with around the fire and passed from one performer tn another. Finally the chief would seize the bird, now nearly dead with rough handling and suffocation. It was supposed to be killed by magic, without the shedding of blood, but was practically put to death by twisting its backbone or by pressure on its heart. It was then skinned, the feathers being saved for future dancing skirts, and the body placed in a hole within the circle of performance. Old women then gathered about the place of interment, threw seeds and food on the carcass, asked enigniatic Questions of the dead bird, and Indulged in weeping and lamentations. After the usual exchange of presents, wearing apparel and food, the party dispersed.
I examined two condor-feather dancing skirts that contained 48 and 70 plumes, respectively. The plumes were fastened at the quill end to cord belts made of twisted strands of milkweed fibers. The primaries were placed at ends of the belt, the secondaries and tail feathers in the middle. One of the skirts was made from a condor that was shot at the reservation in 1926.
Winter: Mr. Scott has this to say about the concentration of condors in winter:
After the condor chick Is half a year old and able to perch about the ancestral cave, the condors of a region congregate in companies as do the turkey vultures. The buzzards go south or gather along the California coast in “roosts”, but the condors are nonmigratory. In earlier times, however, they were accustomed, no doubt, to move over wide areas. Pioneers testify that in the sixties and seventies within their chosen range flocks of condors were fully as large as those of buzzards. Where food was plentiful they often gathered in enormous numbers. One such concentration was witnessed by Hector Angel, of Mesa Grande. In March 1888, just after the buzzards had returned, a late snow killed 3,000 lambs on the famous Warner Ranch. Angel rode for a mile through acres of turkey vultures and condors. “There may have been 1,000 condors and 5,000 buzzards for all I can tell”, he declared.
Nowadays it is rare for an Individual condor to leave the protection of the Santa Barbara National Forest at any season. But the remnant gather as of old for social or feeding purposes. I had the good fortune to witness the activities of a band of 15 on the ranch of Eugene Percy, 8 miles northeast of Fillmore, on January 17, 1938. There were several dead cattle on the ranch and condors were in the sky all day. Twice the company of 15 sailed overhead. They glided and spiraled and shot through the air like rockets. They wheeled about 01(1 carcasses, sometimes alighting in trees or on the ground. In the evening they went to roost in groups of two to five In dead trees on the mountainsides, where it was possible to ride a horse around a tree without making them take wing. Only three days before, my host had counted 30 in the sky at once and had surprised a flock of 12 at the carcass of a dead calf.
Range: Western and Southern United States and northern Lower California. Nonmigratory.
The California condor is now greatly reduced in numbers and is confined to the south-central coast ranges of California from Monterey, Bear Valley, and San Benito south to the Cuyamaca Mountains, Santiago Canyon, and Ventura County.
Its former range extended north to northern Oregon (mouth of the Columbia River and Multnomah). East to Nevada (cave remains near Las Vegas) and New Mexico (cave remains in Rocky Arroyo, northwest of Carlsbad). In the south the range extended into northern bower California (San Fernando, Colorado Delta, Laguna Mountains, and San Pedro Martir Mountains).
Casual records: Fleming (1924) records a specimen from Fort Vancouver, Wash., in the spring of 1827. In British Columbia, Fannin (fide Kermode, 1904) reported seeing two at Burrard Inlet in September 1880, while Rhoads (1893) states that condors were reported on Lulu Island as late as “three or four years ago.”
This species undoubtedly was more widely distributed in geologic times, as Wetmore (1981) has identified condor bones in Pleistocene deposits of fossils from the Seminole area, near St. Petersburg, Fla. Abundant remains of California condors also have been obtained from the Pleistocene asphalt beds of Rancho La Bree., Los Angeles, Calif.
Egg dates: California: 88 records, February 17 to May 28; 19 records, March 23 to April 25.