Condors at the Oregon Zoo

California condors star at a new exhibit in Portland. In a Q&A, an expert talks about these big birds.

Kelli Walker helps hatch a healthy California condor chick at the Oregon Zoo, Portland, Ore., image

Kelli Walker helps hatch a healthy condor chick at Portland's Oregon Zoo.

Featuring a four-story aviary, two pools, and three big, bald residents, the Condors of the Columbia habitat at Portland’s Oregon Zoo opens in May. Kelli Walker, senior keeper in charge of the California condors, is an expert on these critically endangered birds. oregonzoo.org.

Q Just how large are condors?
A
They’re the biggest soaring birds in North America, with a wingspan of almost 10 feet. They remind people of pterodactyls.

Q What was their historic range?
A
From Baja California, Mexico, all the way up to British Columbia.

Q They nearly went extinct?
A
In the 1980s, they were down to just 22 birds.

Q How is the Oregon Zoo helping?
A
It’s one of four breeding facilities. We have eight breeding pairs and produce eggs and chicks for release in Arizona, California, and Baja.

Q What’s special in the zoo habitat?
A
Condors love water, and one pool is three feet deep, so they can get their entire bodies in for baths. They like to drag their food in with them.

Q What do they eat?
A
Anything dead. Usually, the bigger the better.

Q A favorite condor in the habitat?
A
Kaweah, a 28-year-old male. He’ll try to steal anything you’re working with. He’s just naughty—and sneaky.

Q How close can zoo visitors get?
A
The condors can go right up to the two viewing windows. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kaweah did that.

Q A surprising fact about condors?
A
They’re not ugly! They’re colorful, with what looks like a boa around their necks. When they’re displaying, they turn brilliant orange and purple. Even if you don’t think they’re pretty,
they are magnificent.

Photography by Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo

This article was first published in May 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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