The bald head and strong beak of this California condor are not fashion statements—they are useful adaptations.

Like all vultures, California condors are scavengers. They eat the carcasses of dead animals. When they eat, the birds often insert their entire heads into the belly of a carcass, which is full of harmful bacteria. The lack of feathers keeps bacteria and rotting, decomposing flesh from sticking to the condor's head.

The California condor's beak is large and powerful. It is also very sharp. It needs to be, in order to feed on carcasses. The beaks of California condors are strong enough to break the bones of animals such as goats and pigs. They are sharp enough to tear the tough hide of horses and cattle.

Despite their fierce appearance, however, California condors are no danger to people or pets.

Noun

a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

Plural Noun

(singular: bacterium) single-celled organisms found in every ecosystem on Earth.

beak
Noun

hard, protruding jaws of a bird.

California condor
Noun

largest land bird of North America, with a wingspan of 3 meters (9.5 feet).

carcass
Noun

dead body.

cattle
Noun

cows and oxen.

fierce
Adjective

wild or savage.

hide
Noun

leather skin of an animal.

Noun

organism that eats dead or rotting biomass, such as animal flesh or plant material.

vulture
Noun

bird that mostly eats dead animals.