I had the good fortune to visit Pinnacles National Park on Friday, and after spending a chilly night (it got below freezing) we headed up the Condor Gulch Trail to the overlook and further up about 7/10ths of a mile in search of the California Condor. I have always been in awe of this prehistoric bird and felt so privileged that I was able to see them in the wild.
The California Condor is the largest North American land bird, and it became extinct in the wild in 1987. The San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo took in the last remaining birds, some say 22, others 27 in total, and developed a breeding program to reintroduce them back into the wild. Various components were responsible for their decline, loss of habitat, lead poisoning, power lines and Golden Eagles were the main culprit.
Contrary to most birds of prey, the female is smaller than the male and when the male reaches sexual maturity at age 6, he will seek out a female and they will mate for life. The male can have a wingspan of up to 10ft, and as we watched them soar over the cliffs, this became obvious. We witnessed them from far away, soaring so gracefully above the pinnacles, and these incredible birds could be seen with the naked eye. They have a lifespan of 60 plus years and are once again, with the help of programs designed to support their survival, are living in the wild.
This condor lacks true vocal chords, so can only hiss and make pathetic noises. They are eerily quiet and because their wingspan is so large, barely flap at all once a bird has become airborne. The California Condor is black in color, with white striations under the wing. These markings flash a bright white when they turn and bank, and it is this flash, and their immense size that separates them from the Turkey Buzzard. The male’s head ranges from pale pink to a deep orange in color once he is ready to mate. The legs are pale gray and appear white when flying, and hang straight down until the condor reaches a high enough altitude to begin soaring.
While we watched 3 condors taking off from a precipice not far from the trail, they flapped their gigantic wings in an attempt to take off. I was able to get a good glimpse of their comical faces as they veered away from us in a graceful circle, climbing higher and higher up into the sky. Fred thought we might have threatened their nesting site, and that it was a mated pair with a juvenile learning to navigate life among the pinnacles.
This hike was a true A+ for me and I highly recommend it. There is a fair amount of vertical climb, but I didn’t find it that challenging. We saw deer, quail, a gray fox, jays, woodpeckers and at least 9 condors. I recommend hiking in the early morning hours because of the heat. Even though it was freezing the night before, and very chilly when we first started our ascent, it became uncomfortably warm with our jackets and gloves on later in the day. By the time we were heading back to our respective RV’s, Fred, Michael and I had stripped down to shirts and rolled up our sleeves. Bring plenty of water and binoculars are a good choice too.
Callie was able to hang out in our awesome 24ft RV and nap while we hiked. This is such a good life for a cat who loves adventure and to travel. The dash becomes her really big screen TV!
Two condors can be seen roosting on the top of the pinnacle ledge to the far left.