The largest, most endangered and ugliest bird in North America is the California Condor, and I wanted to see one bad. The average weight of these condors is 26 pounds with a wingspan of 9.5 feet; one of largest birds on the continent. Condors have been released in and around the Grand Canyon for years but they still remain one of the rarest birds in the world. In 1987, only 22 California Condors existed in the wild; they were on the edge of extinction and something drastic had to be done. So they captured all of the existing condors, bred them in Californian zoos and then started to release them back into the wild in 1991.
While just over 200 now exist in the wild, it’s still one of the most miraculous come-backs from the brink; a rare conservation victory.
Our recent road trip included both rims of the Grand Canyon and the surrounding countryside and so I was hoping to see one high in the desert sky. But it was now the second to last day and we had still not seen one. Helen is (fairly reluctantly) my birding co-pilot and she had read that a few sometimes hang out under the Navajo Bridge in Glen Canyon.
So we drove to where the bridge spans the canyon with its red vertical walls, high over the Colorado River. Right when we arrived, we looked under the bridge, in the criss-cross steel trusses, and immediately saw a large black bird!
So we walked out on the parallel pedestrian bridge for a closer look. It was a massive black bird with a hunched back; menacing looking; A juvenile Californian Condor with a dark head and a face only a mother could love.
Then I walked to the opposite side of the bridge and looked down into the gorge. Ten feet below me, perched under the bridge was an adult condor who cocked his featherless, colorful head to look back at me. Score two!
Every bird is captured, tagged with a number and small radio transmitter.
It got even better, just a few steps further down the bridge was a third condor, sitting with its wings out-stretched.
With only 200 birds left in the wild we were lucky to see just one, let alone three. And I was expecting to see them soaring far, far in the distance, not up close on the underside of a massive steel bridge. I’m not complaining.
The condor won’t win any beauty pageants but is a magnificently unique bird. Add it to The List:
Glen Canyon, Arizona, USA.