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Return of the Condor

With wingspans approaching 10 feet and weighing as much as 25 pounds, California condors are the largest flying land birds in North America (both mute and trumpeter swans are heavier). In the 1980s, there were only 22 California condors left in the wild, and these were captured so that a captive-breeding program could be instituted in hopes of bringing these birds back from the brink of extinction.

Between 1924 and 1996, if you had seen a California condor in Arizona, you would likely have been in a zoo. There were none of these giant birds living free in a state where once they had been plentiful. That all changed in 1996 when six captive-raised condors were released atop the Vermilion Cliffs (north of Grand Canyon National Park). Since then between 6 and 10 birds have been released annually, and there are now more than 50 condors flying free over northern Arizona. In 2003, for the first time in more than a century, a pair of condors hatched and raised a chick, and since then, several more condor pairs have successfully raised offspring.

Condors are curious birds, and they are often attracted to human activity. Consequently, they are often seen in or near Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of the canyon. Captive-raised condors are easily recognized by the large numbers affixed to their wings. If you see a condor without a wing number, it is one of the handful of birds that have hatched in the wild in recent years. One of the best places to spot condors is on the way to the North Rim on House Rock Valley Road, north of U.S. 98A between Lees Ferry and Jacob Lake. A few miles up this road, you will find interpretive plaques and a viewpoint from which you can see the condor release site high atop the cliffs to the east. For more information on the condor-release program, visit the Peregrine Fund website (www.peregrinefund.org), which is the organization that administers the program.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.