Condors and vultures are distinct from most other terrestrial birds because they use extensive soaring flight for their daily movements. Therefore, assessing resource selection by these avian scavengers requires quantifying the availability of terrestrial-based habitats, as well as meteorological variables that influence atmospheric conditions necessary for soaring. In this study, we undertook the first quantitative assessment of habitat- and meteorological-based resource selection in the endangered California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) within its California range and across the annual cycle. We found that condor use of terrestrial areas did not change markedly within the annual cycle, and that condor use was greatest for habitats where food resources and potential predators could be detected and where terrain was amenable for taking off from the ground in flight (e.g., sparse habitats, coastal areas). Condors originating from different release sites differed in their use of habitat, but this was likely due in part to variation in habitats surrounding release sites. Meteorological conditions were linked to condor use of ecological subregions, with thermal height, thermal velocity, and wind speed having both positive (selection) and negative (avoidance) effects on condor use in different areas. We found little evidence of systematic effects between individual characteristics (i.e., sex, age, breeding status) or components of the species management program (i.e., release site, rearing method) relative to meteorological conditions. Our findings indicate that habitat type and meteorological conditions can interact in complex ways to influence condor resource selection across landscapes, which is noteworthy given the extent of anthropogenic stressors that may impact condor populations (e.g., lead poisoning, wind energy development). Additional studies will be valuable to assess small-scale condor movements in light of these stressors to help minimize their risk to this critically endangered species.
Additional publication details
Resource selection by the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) relative to terrestrial-based habitats and meteorological conditions