California Condor Making a Comeback from Extinction
By Ken Koontz
With a wingspan of over nine feet, and the ability to fly up to 15,000 feet on hot-air thermals, condors can cover a lot of ground. However, it wasn’t that long ago when there wasn’t a single one in the sky. The largest land bird in North America was pushed to the edge of extinction throughout the last century. The birds were illegally hunted, fought the effect of pesticides such as DDT, and were contaminated by lead ammunition fragments left in dead animal carcasses.
As numbers plummeted, the condor was on its way to certain extinction. In an effort to save the bird, the last wild condor was captured in 1987, bringing the total population left on earth to a total of just 22 birds – all in captivity.
This mission was not only started to save the species, but to eventually release them back into the wild. Out of the 22 remaining birds, 13 were determined to have enough genetic diversity and would be bred. Within just a few years, this effort was beginning to pay off and birds that were bred in captivity, as well as a few of the original captured birds, have now been released into the wild in Arizona, California and Baja Mexico. It is estimated that a little over 400 birds are now soaring the skies once again, and a number of the northern Arizona birds have made their way into southern Utah and have begun to nest.
The Kanab area offers many opportunities to get a view of a California Condor. This past year, visitors at the Navajo Bridge at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area got a rare treat. Condors numbered 496 and 354 nested in clear view from the bridge and produced an offspring. The birds are tracked by numbers affixed to their wings so that they can readily be identified. Many visitors got very good views of the birds as they flew over and through the bridge, often stopping on the bridge right below them. They are also often seen on the cliffs that surround the bridge.
In September, the Peregrine Fund, which raises condors at their various facilities, held their 23rd annual condor release at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Four condors were released into the wild in front of a record crowd of over 750 people. The crowd watched through scopes and binoculars as the birds were released into the wild for the first time.
Keep looking up, and on various cliffs and ledges, Condors can now be seen soaring over the area. If you spot one, try to notice the tag number affixed to their wings. This number can then be searched at the website www.Perigrenefund.org and you will be able to tell when and where the bird was born, the release date and other information.
California Condors mate for life, and do not reach sexual maturity until about six years of age. They can live long lives in the wild – around 50 to 60 years – but females only lay one egg per year.
The birds still have a long way to go before they are taken off the endangered list, but for now, enjoy them as they soar wild once again.
Condors have recently been spotted above Kanab on top of the K-Hill ... so Stay Parked Here and keep your eyes peeled to the sky.