The largest land birds in North America, California condors have a colossal wingspan that surpasses that of many of the largest, most fearsome raptors, including bald and golden eagles and turkey vultures.
So just how big are California condors? Read on as we explore how they measure up against other giants of the bird world.
The largest recorded wingspan of a California condor was recorded at 3.05m (10 ft), with the average range falling between 2.4 and 3 m (8.2 to 9.8 ft). Adult male California condors are marginally heavier than females, with an average weight of 8.8 kg (19.4 lb) compared to 8.1 kg (17.9 lb).
One of the world’s rarest birds, these giant vultures battled back from the brink of extinction to soar their way to the top of the leaderboard of North American birds with the greatest wingspans, just ahead of the American white pelican.
Andean condors, native to South America’s mountainous Andes region are the only other existing condor species in the world, and are similar in stature to California condors, but have a slight edge in both wingspan and weight.
To learn more about how California condors benefit from their vast size, and to discover whether a California condor has the power to lift a human, please keep reading!
California Condors are one of the worlds rarest birds
With giant wings adapted for soaring rather than flapping, wingspan measurements of California condors fall in the range of 2.5 to 3.05 m (8.5 to 10 ft).
Claims of a California condor with a wingspan of 3.4 m (11 ft) exist but have not been substantiated and remain unverified.
Male California condors are slightly heavier than their female counterparts, which is unusual among many birds of prey species, where females are typically heavier and larger than males.
California Condor at Grand Canyon National Park
Standing upright, a California condor reaches a height of 4 ft 2 in (127 cm), around 50 cm (19.7 in) shorter than an average human.
Unsupported claims of a California condor with wingspans of 3.4m (11 ft) exist but have not been verified with evidence. The largest verified wingspan measurement is 3.05 m (10 ft.) Weights and measurements are generally taken from captive birds, so wild-roaming individuals may exceed these records.
California Condor in flight over Big Sur
Unlike eagles and owls, California condors are scavengers that feed on dead animal carcasses, rather than hunting and carrying off large or live prey. For this reason, it’s not typical behavior for a California condor to pick up any kind of prey, regardless of its size.
The vast size of a California condor is thought to be an adaptation that evolved in response to changes in habitat and diet over thousands of years. Scientists believe that California condors were widespread during the Ice Age and would have preyed on carcasses of megafauna, including dire wolves, mastodons, bison, and mammoths.
The larger the bird, the larger carcass it could tackle, which placed California condors at the top of the food chain.
Once the Ice Age ended, and terrestrial mammals were wiped out, California condors needed to expand their range to find any viable source of carrion, which included washed-up carcasses of whales, seals and sea lions.
Research suggests that their enormous wingspans developed as an evolutionary response to the need to cover large distances, enabling them to soar on thermals while scouring the landscape below for food.
The Endangered California Condor Standing on Rock
Many bird species outrank California condors in terms of weight, although these are generally flightless birds, such as ostriches, emus, cassowaries, rhea, and king and emperor penguins.
The heaviest of these, the Common ostrich, can weigh up to 156 kg (345 lb), so at least 15 times heavier than the heaviest California condor. Even king penguins, which can weigh up to 18 kg (40 lb), are twice as heavy as the average California condor.
With verified individuals measuring up to 3.63 m (11 ft 11 in), wandering albatrosses – that soar in the skies over the Southern Ocean – hold the record as the bird with the largest wingspan in the world. Male wandering albatrosses can weigh up to 11.91kg (26 lb), so considerably outweigh California condors too.
California Condor with stretched wings
American white pelicans are commonly recognized as North America’s second-largest bird in terms of wingspan, trailing slightly behind California condors with an average measurement range of 2.4 to 3 m (7.9 to 9.8 ft).
South American Andean condors can reach maximum weights of 15 kg (33 lb), but weigh on average 9-12 kg (20-27 lb), so have a slight edge on the maximum and average weights recorded for California condors. Andean condors’ average wingspan is also slightly greater than that of the California species, with a range of 2.7 to 3.2 m (8.9 to 10.5 ft), compared to 2.5 to 3.05 m (8.5 to 10 ft).
Further afield, Marabou storks, native to sub-Saharan Africa, are ranked as having the world’s largest verified wingspan, with an individual bird’s wing measurement recorded at 3.7 m (12 ft). Great white pelicans, found across Africa and southern Asia, are also acknowledged for their vast wingspans, which fall in the range of 2.26 to 3.6 m (7.4 to 11.8 ft).
Although the California condor is considered to have the largest wingspan of any land bird native to North America, a handful of other species further afield, in the Southern Hemisphere, in sub-Saharan Africa and across southern Asia, have even more impressive wingspans. These include Wandering albatrosses, Great white pelicans, and Marabou storks.
Andean condors, found in South America, also have marginally greater wingspan measurements than the California species.
In terms of mass and height, there are many, many birds that are larger than California condors, including ostriches, emus and cassowaries.
Andean Condors are marginally larger than California Condors
California condors are scavengers rather than hunters and would not attempt to carry off even the smallest live prey, let alone a human that was at least twice their height. They are naturally wary of humans, and would not knowingly approach any site close to human occupation.
California condors lack strength to grip with their talons as they do not need the ability to carry off prey, feeding instead from carcasses where they find them on the ground.
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