The Color of Condors

California condor juveniles have darkish grey heads and necks and then around four years of age start to become more and more pinkish/orange/red (see the field guide for more information and photos of examples here and at the bottom of the wreness’s slidshow here) until they are about six years old when they obtain the full coloring of a mature adult.  However, like everything, a condor’s color is not so simple. We have some special thoughts and tips about a condor’s ability to change their coloring from Mike Clark (aka the Condor Whisperer) who works at the Los Angeles Zoo and is truly one of the heroes of the condor recovery movement.

Here are Mike’s thoughts/observations:

In my opinion females have a yellower coloration from the malar stripe forward than males. Of course it varies from bird to bird. but if you put them side by side I find the females have a yellower face generally from the malar stripe forward. Males can have the same yellow in this place but it is usually shaded with a little more flushed coloration mixed in . This is not a hard and fast rule obviously.

Here are some examples of the male/female difference:

Topa Topa, stud book #1, he is a male. Topa Topa is the first condor brought into captivity – he was brought into captivity when he was very young (~1 years old) on 12 Feb.1967 as he was found injured and in poor health. He is too imprinted to be released to the wild but is the king of the condors at the Los Angeles Zoo and has fathered many of the free-flying birds you see in the photos!

Topa Topa, stud book #1, he is a male. Topa Topa is the first condor brought into captivity – he was brought into captivity when he was very young (~1 years old) on 12 Feb.1967 as he was found injured and in poor health. He is too imprinted to be released to the wild but is the king of the condors at the Los Angeles Zoo and has fathered many of the free-flying birds you see in the photos!

Malibu – a mature female condor and paired with Topa for many years as part of the Los Angeles Zoo’s condor breeding program.

Malibu – a mature female condor and paired with Topa for many years as part of the Los Angeles Zoo’s condor breeding program.

Intensity of color varies widely. When birds are upset or angry around the nest or young the colors intensify.  They also go starkly pale when in fear or being pursued (like by someone with a net when being trapped for health check-ups). [We don’t know what happened before this photo was taken, but Condor Watchers observed a remarkably pale female 190, aka Red 90, here]

Another observation is that the mature adults tend to have a bluish neck. [Again, CondorWatchers recently noted a particularly blue neck here] When they get a hold of food and start to dig in on the food the neck flushes (if its exposed and the ruff isn’t up) and the neck turns more purple than blue.

I think the bird’s diet, and beta carotene in particular, has very drastic effect on coloration of the birds’ faces. [Although we think of orange vegetables as sources of beta carotene, it is also found in meat and especially liver]

Can you guess from the descriptions above who here is the male and female of a current breeding pair at the Los Angeles Zoo?

pair for coloring 2

pair for coloring

Let us know if you see any extreme examples of these color variations by tagging the photos – especially if you see a condor with a bluish/purplish color when feeding!  Who knows, maybe we will learn something new about condors and colors!

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3 responses to “The Color of Condors”

  1. Raul says :

    i think we saw a condom flying over City terrace. My neighbor and i saw it today and i saw one abouta few weeks ago. We have several large hawks here.this not a hawk its black and has the sharp ended wings and in the folds.

    • myraef says :

      where is City terrace? Turkey Vultures are much more common to see, and depending on where you live, black vultures. thanks for the comment!

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