California Condors

November 10, 2019 at 3:10 pm (Bird photography, Birds - California, California, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Photography, Wildlife) ()

California Condor – Orange 77

I have seen California Condors, mostly from a distance, though I did see some juveniles close enough to read their wing tags about five years ago at Pinnacles National Monument.

Purple 54 and Orange 20

But on Nov. 9, 2019 I was fortunate to go on our tour of the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Southern California where I saw approximately 8 free-flying and 14 captive condors in the flight pen.

Orange 77

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife 2016 report on the California Condor Recovery Program, the total world population of condors is 446, with 166 wild in California, 76 in Arizona/Utah, and 34 in Baja, Mexico.

Blue 28

Of the California population, there are a total of 82 in Southern California (2017 report) and 86 in Central California.

Black 40

Many in the flight pen were captive-raised and were to be released after learning from the older mentor bird how to interact, feed and fly. Some were trapped for medical checkups.

Pink 64 juvenile and a raven at flight pen

The wild birds are often at the pen, either waiting for their mates to be released, or perhaps as support or out of curiosity.

We met a few miles from the refuge entrance and were escorted to the bunkhouse where we carpooled to two observation points. The first one (above) had a view of the flight pen.

Flight pen

We were told that the condors generally become active around mid-morning when the thermals are stronger. Since they are also curious, they flew close to us to check us out.

Unfortunately they were against the light, so their coloration isn’t as clear.

Orange 77
Orange 20

Soaring against the expansive hills was a majestic sight.

Blue 28

We had lunch and then visited a hillside opposite of the first one. The light was much better, but the birds kept their distance. I wish our first visit had been to this side instead when the birds were more curious.

Flight pen.

Juvenile condors have black/gray heads, and attain their full adult coloration of white-underside wings and red heads around age six.

I drove home through one of my favorite places – Carrizo Plain National Monument. After six or seven months without rain, it was barren, a sharp contrast to the lushness of the flower-covered landscape in late winter.

Carrizo Plain- Elkhorn Hills backdropped by Temblor Range

There were hundreds of antelope squirrel holes, and I looked for burrowing owls but without success. I did catch two of the San Joaquin antelope squirrels, a species considered threatened in California.

San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel
San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel

There were very few birds actively foraging. I saw some white-crowned and lark sparrows at the southern end at a spring in an old farm yard, a flock of sagebrush sparrows and horned larks, and a single red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk

There were more birds at the northern end, but by then I was rushing to get home by dark.

It was an exceptional day, and an amazing condor experience. Thanks to our tour guides for giving us this opportunity. Check out the Bitter Creek NWR website to join a future tour.

For more information on the California Condor:

Defenders of Wildlife

California Dept of Fish & Wildlife

US Fish & Wildlife

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share


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  1. Patti Henshaw said,

    Cindy your photos are wonderful and you got to see much more than we were there!

    • Cindy McIntyre said,

      I know we were very fortunate. It was amusing seeing how curious they were about us.

  2. The Evolving Naturalist said,

    Nice photos! I’ve only seen condors at the zoo.

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