Among the crags, in caverns deep,
    The Vulture rears his brood;
Far reaching is his vision's sweep
    O'er valley, plain, and wood;
And wheresoe'er the quarry lies,
    It cannot 'scape his peering eyes.
The traveler, from the plain below,
    Sees first a speck upon the sky
Then, poised on sweeping wings of woe,
    A Vulture, Bat-like, passes by.
— C. C. M.

DOCTOR BREWER states that the single species composing this very distinct genus belongs to western North America, and, so far as known, has the most restricted distribution of all the large raptorial birds in the world. It is found on the coast ranges of southern California from Monterey Bay southward into Lower California. It has become very much reduced in numbers and extinct in localities where it was formerly abundant, which is doubtless due to the indiscriminate use of poison which is placed on carcasses for the purpose of killing Wolves, Bears, Lynxes, Cougars, and other animals which destroy Sheep, Calves, and other cattle of the stockmen. Davie says it is more common in the warm valleys of California, among the almost inaccessible cliffs of the rough mountain ranges running parallel with the Sierra Nevadas for a hundred miles south of Monterey. It associates with the Turkey Buzzard, and the habits of both species are alike, and they often feed together on the same carcass.

The Vulture's flight is easy, graceful, and majestic. A writer who watched one of these gigantic birds thus pictures it: "High in air an aeronaut had launched itself — the California Condor. Not a wing or feather moved, but resting on the wind, like a kite, the great bird, almost if not quite the equal of its Andean cousin, soared in great circles, ever lifted by the wind, and rising higher and higher into the empyrean. Not a motion of the wing could be seen with careful scrutiny through the glass, but every time the bird turned and faced the wind it seemed to bound upward as though lifted by some super human power, then bearing away before it, gathering the force or momentum which shot its air-laden frame higher and higher until it almost disappeared from sight — a living balloon."


The ordinary California Buzzard and the singular Ravens of Santa Catalina Island often give marvelous exhibitions of soaring or rising into the air without moving their wings, and when it is remembered that their bodies are reduced to a minimum of weight, and that even the bones are filled with air, it is almost scientifically and literally true that they are living balloons. And yet the weight of the Vulture is sometimes twenty-five pounds, requiring immense wingseight and a half to eleven feet from tip to tip-to support it.

Mr. H. R. Taylor, of the late Nidologist, says there have probably but three or four eggs of the California Vulture been taken, of which he has one. The egg was taken in May, 1889, in the Santa Lucia Mountains, San Luis Obispo County, California, at an altitude of 3,480 feet. It was deposited in a large cave in the side of a perpendicular bluff, which the collector entered by means of a long rope from above. The bird was on the nest, which was in a low place in the rock, and which was, the collector says, lined with feathers plucked from her own body. This assertion, however, Mr. Taylor says, may be an unwarranted conclusion. From the facts at hand, it appears that the California Condor lays but a single egg.

The Condor is not an easy bird to capture, for it has a fierce temper and a powerful beak. An unusually large one, however, was recently taken in Monterey County, California. To catch the mighty creature William J. Barry made use of a lasso, such as ranchmen have with which to round up obstreperous cattle. The strength of one man was barely sufficient to imprison it. It is said that the appetite of the bird was not affected by its loss of liberty.

Back to December 1898 Contents

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