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California condors are the largest birds in North America They may weigh up to 25 pounds and have wingspans of 9 12 feet California condors have bare heads and necks dull gray-black feathers and blunt claws They have a triangle-shaped patch of white visible only when airborne that adorns the underside of their wings California condors can soar on warm thermal updrafts for hours reaching speeds of more than 55 miles per hour and altitudes of 15000 feet Normally California condors do not become sexually mature until the age of 6 and may not start breeding until age 7 or 8 They nest in caves or clefts on cliffs that usually have nearby trees for roosting and a clear approach for easy take-offs and landings Typically an adult pair lays one egg every other year with the fledgling being dependent upon its parents through the next breeding season Like all vultures condors are carrion-eaters They prefer large dead animals like deer cattle and sheep but will also eat rodents and more rarely fish If a meal has been particularly big they may have to spend hours on the ground or a low branch before they can take off again Condors are fastidious birds -- after eating they clean their heads and necks by rubbing them on grass rocks or tree branches Condors also bathe frequently and spend hours preening and drying their feathers Condors were probably never very numerous in North America The species once ranged along the entire Pacific Coast from British Columbia to Baja California Fossils have been found as far east as Texas Florida and New York More recently however they were confined to a horseshoe-shaped area north of Los Angeles For years no one knew precisely how many California condors existed although they have been considered to be a declining species since the 1890s One estimate put their number at 100 in the early 1940s Another
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