Who knew?

Here, from reliable sources, are some lesser-known facts about the California condor.

I will start with anatomy.

Harvey Fisher noted that, unlike black and turkey vultures, the California condor has no eyelashes.

01a Stager 1964 - title

Kenneth Stager found that the nostrils of the California condor are 9.5 x 3.8 millimeters. That area is a little less than the cross-section of a wooden pencil. Those nostrils are smaller than a turkey vulture’s, despite the condor having a much larger head. Stager’s contribution provided an illustration of this difference:

01b Stager 1964 - illustration

Peter Mundy and colleagues reported that the California condor has 18 cervical vertebrae, more than any other vulture. Humans have just 7 cervical vertebrae.

In another article, Harvey Fisher determined the “total supporting surface of the tail, wings and body” for a number of vultures. For the California condor, Fisher’s measurement was “12532 square centimeters”. That area is almost that of a typical bathroom door.

Next, matters of diet.

Again from Peter Mundy and colleagues: the California condor can hold 1.4 kg of food in its crop. That’s the equivalent of a typical, packaged frying chicken.

Steve Sherrod provided an extensive list of food items consumed by raptors, including the California condor. But what caught my eye was not what condors eat. The report noted that raptors sometimes eat raptors, including turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, and bald eagles. Condors, however, were not on any raptors’ menu.

02 Miller 1925

Loye Miller described a consequence of condor feeding behavior in an early report about the La Brea “tar” pits. Condors were often drawn to the animals trapped in the asphalt because there were “almost incredible masses of [California condor] remains [in the pits].”

And, finally, some miscellaneous.

03 Fisher 1946

Much has been written about the California condor’s flying ability. This, however, was new to me: Harvey Fisher wrote that Carl …

… Koford on several occasions has observed a [flying] condor scratch its head with its foot without a waver in the vertical and horizontal lines of flight.

In early years, there were efforts to place bands on the legs of California condors. This should never be done. But in case it ever comes up, Richard Pough reported that condors need a size 8 band.

And, just so you know, the Iowa Press-Citizen for 3 July 1924 provided this update regarding hunting licenses:

After the revised Iowa Code makes its appearance … the [county] recorder, not the auditor, shall issue … permits to shoot wolves, condors, elephants, lions, tigers, and other beasts and birds in Johnson county.

Most of my sources here are older so not all the information above may be up-to-date.

For more on condors as food, see the post News happens.

Fisher, Harvey I. The pterylosis of the king vulture. Condor. March-April 1943.

Stager, Kenneth E. The role of olfaction in food location by the turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). Contributions in Science 81. 1964.

Mundy, Peter, and others. The vultures of Africa. Academic. 1992.

Fisher, Harvey Irvin. Adaptations and comparative anatomy of the locomotor apparatus of New World vultures. American Midland Naturalist. May 1946.

Sherrod, Steve K. Diets of North American Falconiformes. Raptor Research. Fall-Winter 1978.

Miller, Loye. The birds of Rancho La Brea. In Studies on the fossil flora and fauna of the western United States. Carnegie Institution of Washington. 1925.

Pough, Richard H. Hawk band sizes. Bird-Banding. January 1939.