Comparing sizes

Updated 4 December 2019

The exceptional size of the California condor can be described with numbers and words. But a picture is better.

This post presents illustrations comparing the size of the California condor to more-familiar animals.

Here is a comparison of the California condor to the turkey vulture and the bald and golden eagles:

01 Stebbins - Stebbins & Stebbins 1954

Artist: Robert C Stebbins. Source: Stebbins, Cyril A, and Robert C Stebbins. Birds of Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Nature Notes. August 1954.

A California condor egg may only be about twice as long as an average chicken egg, but this means that its volume (and weight) is about 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 times greater:

02 Uncredited - Smith & Easton 1964

Artist: Uncredited. Source: Smith, Dick, and Robert Easton. California condor: vanishing American. McNally and Loftin. 1964.

In this next graphic, the bird at upper left is a robin and the condor is at upper right:

03 Uncredited - Atkinson 1966

Artist: Uncredited. Source: Atkinson, Brooks. Those ‘forty dirty birds’. Audubon. August 1966.

In addition to offering a size comparison, this drawing that also shows the difference between the appearance of a California condor and cousin turkey vulture when flying toward an observer:

04 Uncredited - Borneman 1978

Artist: Uncredited. Source: Borneman, John. To see a condor. Birding. February 1978.

The next graphic includes a “Pleistocene condor” (in blue), referring to the extinct Teratornis incredibilis, as well as a California condor (in red):

05 Conrad - Caras 1979

Artist: Bob Conrad. Source: Caras, Roger. Where has the thunder gone? Geo. Charter issue 1979.

This painting shows, from left to right, turkey and black vultures, caracara, and immature and adult California condors. They all appear about the same size. But the note next to the condors explains that the condor images are shown at half the scale of the other birds:

06 Peeters - Griggs 1997

Artist: Hans Peeters. Source: Griggs, Jack L, editor. All the birds of North America: American Bird Conservancy’s field guide. HarperPerennial. 1997.

Here is a stylized diagram – with clouds – from a newspaper known for its graphics:

07 McLean - O'Driscoll 1997

Artist: Elys A McLean (with research by John Siniff). Source: O’Driscoll, Patrick. Condors soar in popularity. USA Today. 14 August 1997.

This last illustration appears in the shaded corner of an artwork by Matthew Twombly:

08 Twombly

For more of Twombly’s condor illustration, see the previous post The skull.

Four previous posts that include other size-comparison illustrations or photos are:

Black & white illustrations from government publications
Comparing skulls
Illustrations & photos from Defenders: 1980-1986
Pamphlets from the National Audubon Society


Since writing this post, I happened upon this nice “word picture” of the size of a California condor:

When the Condor flew from the fence post toward the ground I noted that his wings reached beyond the two fence posts for a distance of ten or twelve inches. They were eight feet apart so this Condor’s wing spread was between nine and ten feet.

The above is from a letter to the editor of News from the Bird-Banders written by Mrs. Will Williams. The letter was published in the October 1950 issue, the timing of which explains why Mrs. Williams first name was not given.