California Condors!!

This is a rare real-time (happened today) post!

As I was driving towards the Grand Canyon North Rim entrance this afternoon I drove through an area that had been burned out in a wildfire in 2006. As I rounded a curve I saw 6 huge black things in the skeletal remains of a tree. At first I thought they might be nests of some kind. As I got a little closer I realized they were birds, and then I saw some vehicles pulled off to the side of the road and a small number of people standing around so I knew it must be something worthwhile.

It turns out they were (relatively rare) California Condors. Their numbers had dwindled down to only a few dozen but efforts have been made to breed them in captivity for release into the wild and there are now several hundred. I thought I had seen one way up in the air in this same area back in 2017 (search “Condor” on the blog homepage, then look for the post titled “Final Day…” posted on 9/14/17). By the time I turned the car around and could find a safe place to get it completely off the road without starting a wildfire in the dry vegetation next to the road, four of them had flown off (there was a woman out in the brush walking slowly towards the tree and that evidently scared most of them off). I saw the last one of the four take off and it was enormous.

Here are the two that were left:

This is the one on the higher branch:

The way I know they are condors is that that have a wing tag which identifies them:

According to the peregrinefund.org website, A9 is an adult male, hatched 5/22/04 at the Birds of Prey Sanctuary in Boise, Idaho. It was released into the wild on 3/1/05 and is one of about 80 which are believed to stay in the Arizona/Utah area, with about 160 more in California and 30 in Baja, Mexico. I’ve seen different numbers on different sites so the current numbers may be higher than that.

According to one of the other observers, one way to tell that it is an adult by sight is that it had a reddish head. The one on the lower branch is just a young tyke – hatched 4/22/18 and released by the same organization on 9/28/19. It is a female, the area around her head is still black (ah, youth…), and her tag number is X6:

From what I have read online an adult condor has a wingspan of between 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 feet, compared with a turkey vulture at 5 feet or a golden eagle at 6 feet. Here is a condor/human picture I found online:

(Photo credit: NPS.gov, photo by Arianna Punzalan)

I was hoping the birds might still be there when I left the Park but they were gone. I will keep a sharp eye out as I go in and out of the Park tomorrow, and may even try again Saturday when I leave Fredonia AZ to drive down to my next stop, south of Phoenix. One of the other people who stopped to look says he sees them here frequently and also gave me the name of another spot nearby where they are often spotted. Depending on the weather tomorrow I may try that location as well. There was more rain here today, though it didn’t affect my brief time in the Park. I will get an early start tomorrow and am staying much closer to the Park. Generally the storms seem to develop in the early to mid-afternoon so I should have lots of opportunities.

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