Vultures of California (3 Species)

Vultures are large birds of prey that normally have a head or neck that is often devoid of feathers. Due to their habits of feeding on carrion, they have gotten a bad reputation, however their ecological niche is valuable and they are quite interesting birds. There are three different vulture species that can be found in California. The Turkey Vulture is migratory and can be found in more parts of California during the spring, summer, and fall. The Black Vulture occasionally shows up in California. The California Condor is non-migratory and can only be found in select areas of California.

Vultures of California

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture (Cape Hatteras National Seashore Photo)
Turkey Vulture in flight (Brad Sutton Photo)

The Turkey Vulture is a large brown bird with a pinkish head that is featherless. In flight, the trailing edge of the wings will show white feathers, with the rest of the underside of the bird being brown. Turkey Vulture will often be seen soaring overhead, or perched on cliffs or other tall structures. They can also be seen near roadsides feeding on carrion.


In North America, Turkey Vultures can be seen in southern states and central America year round. They move into northern states and Southern Canada during the summer.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Turkey Vultures feed mostly on dead prey such as roadkill or carrion. It is said that Turkey Vultures will never attack live prey. They serve as a valuable “clean-up crew” in the ecosystems they inhabit.

Where to Find this Bird

Look for Turkey Vultures soaring overhead or perching up on high structures such as signs, power lines, cliffs, or tall trees. They will often roost or feed in groups. Also keep an eye out for these birds feeding in open areas or roadsides.

Black Vulture

Black Vulture (Dennis Jarvis Photo – CC by 2.0)
Black Vulture in flight (cuatrok77 photo – CC by 2.0)

Black Vultures look similar to turkey vultures except they have an all black head and appear to have white/gray wingtips when viewed from below, as opposed to white on the trailing wing edge, among other features.

Learn how to differentiate Black Vultures from Turkey Vultures

The Black Vulture can be found in many southern and southeastern states in the U.S. as well as in Central America. They are often seen as vagrants in more northern states in the U.S. Black Vultures are not common in California but do show up yearly in small numbers throughout the year.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Much like the Turkey Vulture, Black Vultures will feed on roadkill and carrion, often large mammals. However, unlike the Turkey Vulture, they have also been known to eat weak, or dying live prey.

Where to Find this Bird

Black Vultures can be seen soaring overhead, or perched on powerlines, snags, cliffs, or on other tall structures. They can also sometimes be seen in mixed groups of other raptors such as Turkey Vultures.

California Condor

California Condor (Scott Flaherty Photo – CC by 2.0)
California Condor in flight (USFWS Photo)

The largest wild birds in North America, California Condors also have a striking appearance to go along with their large size. Adults have an orange-yellow, featherless head, with black wings and white wing patches that can be seen on the underside of their wings. Juveniles will have a darker colored head.


California Condors were once thought to have roamed all over North America, however their population declined throughout the 1900s, so much so that all wild condors were captured in the 1980s. The 27 remaining birds were put into captive breeding programs. Birds were bred and released back into the wild successfully and by 2016, the total population was up to 446 birds. California Condors were released into California, and Arizona, with the Arizona population expanding into Utah and Nevada. These populations are non-migratory although one or two birds may stray away from time to time. In California, Pinnacles National Park may be a good location to look for condors.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

California Condors feed on carrion, including terrestrial and marine mammals.

Where to Find this Bird

California Condors can only be found in select areas and are most easily seen soaring. Keep an eye out for tags on their wings indicating an individual bird. The Grand Canyon and other breathtaking, dry landscapes in California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada are the best places to find condors. Look for recent reports on eBird to locate where certain individuals were last seen.

Which of these species have you seen? Leave a comment below and thanks for reading!

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