Condors soar once more over the Southwest

  • A condor flies over the rim of the Vermillion Cliffs

    Glenn Oakley
  • Condor

    Glenn Oakley
  On a Saturday morning, a small crowd gathers at Arizona's House Rock Valley, gazing up at big black birds that glide on the thermals. The California condor has returned to canyon country.


The last time anyone saw the giant cousin of the turkey vulture in this region was almost 70 years ago. The species nearly vanished completely, as wanton shooting and poisoning drove it to the brink of extinction early in this century.


Since December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with help from the Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Fish and Game Department and the Peregrine Fund, has released 15 of the birds on the Vermillion Cliffs, north of the Grand Canyon.


"It's pretty exciting," says Bill Heinrich, a Peregrine Fund biologist who has helped with the reintroduction effort. "These things can fly 30, 40, 50 miles in less than an hour almost effortlessly." One adventurous bird, known as "Number 36," has wandered as far as the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell.


The condors, fledged in the Los Angeles Zoo, feed on dead calves provided by biologists, but they're learning to find food on their own, according to condor coordinator Robert Mesta. So far, two condors have died - one was killed by a golden eagle in January, and the second ran into powerlines in May.


Despite early opposition to the reintroduction, Mesta says locals now realize that the condors' endangered status doesn't threaten their livelihoods (HCN, 8/5/96). "People are extremely supportive," says Mesta. "They've pretty much embraced the program." A Utah court dismissed a lawsuit filed by San Juan County that would have stalled reintroduction efforts.


If all goes as planned, five to eight more birds will join the growing flock on the Vermillion Cliffs this fall.


For more information, call Robert Mesta at 805/ 644-1766, or check out the Peregrine Fund's home page, http://www.peregrinefund.org.


*Greg Hanscom


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