The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is the largest land bird in North America. Its range spans throughout California and into Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Historically, its range was distributed throughout the entirety of the Western United States. The condor was especially widespread during the Pleistocene epoch, which was due to the high abundance of large megafauna that existed throughout the United States. Following the Pleistocene extinction, most of the large megafauna went extinct, leading the condors limited to the west coast and to be reliant on carcasses of stranded marine mammals. More recently, the birds have shifted to terrestrial animals including cattle which in many cases, need to be provided to them by humans.
One of the most obvious threats facing these birds is the lack of large bodied animal carcasses to feed on. During the late Pleistocene, the arrival of humans to North and South America seems to directly coincide with the extinction of the megafauna that existed. These species include the mastodon, giant ground sloth, camels and tapirs, all of which were critical to the condor’s diet. It is argued that these birds relied so heavily on the carcasses of these large mammals that ever since they went extinct, they have been teetering on extinction themselves and are a lost cause, being described as a Pleistocene relict with “one wing in the grave”.
Unfortunately, the population of the California Condor does not appear to be self-sustaining. Given the fact that without human interference, the California Condor would be extinct, eludes us to a bleak future for these birds. We even have to make up for the absence of large mammal carcasses by presenting wild individuals with the carcasses of livestock. Though it seems like humans are the reason why their original food sources have been depleted, we are the only species that can support the California Condor and keep their numbers up. This a species that been truly lost in time.