PHOENIX — Come witness a rare and spectacular sight that few places outside Arizona can offer: the release into the wild of endangered California condors. The public is invited to attend the 14th annual release at 11 a.m., Saturday, March 7, when four condors will be released at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
“It’s always a thrill to add more individuals to this growing flock, as well as to see them producing young successfully on their own in the wild,” says Chris Parish, condor field project supervisor with The Peregrine Fund, the group releasing the birds.
Of the birds to be released, one was hatched and reared at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Idaho, and the other three originated from the Oregon Zoo’s captive breeding program.
“Arizona is privileged to be home to one of only three wild California condor populations in the world, so residents and visitors to our state have a unique opportunity to watch this release,” says Kathy Sullivan, a condor biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “The public gets really into the release, waiting for the birds to come out and trying to subliminally encourage them to take that first flight out of the holding pen.”
Once numbering only 22 birds, 169 California condors now grace the skies of California, Mexico and Arizona. The original 22 birds were captured in the 1980s in an effort to save the species through captive breeding. Condors produced in captivity are now periodically released to help grow the wild populations.
Condors were added to the federal endangered species list in 1967. The condor is the largest flying land bird in North America. The birds can weigh up to 26 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 9 1/2 feet. Condors were first reintroduced into Arizona in 1996, and there are now 67 in the state. Visitors to the Grand Canyon area are often able to observe the birds during the spring and summer, and they can be seen at the Vermilion Cliffs during the winter.
Lead poisoning is the leading cause of death in condors and the main obstacle to a self-sustaining population in Arizona. Studies show that lead shot and bullet fragments found in game carcasses and gut piles are the main source of lead in condors.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department, and its partners the Arizona Deer Association, Arizona Elk Society, Arizona Antelope Foundation, Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, and the Arizona Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, encourage hunters to continue their proud tradition of wildlife conservation by using non-lead ammunition in condor range (Game Management Units 9, 10, 12A/B, and 13A/B).
The department started offering free non-lead ammunition in 2005 to hunters drawn for hunts in the condors’ core range, which includes Game Management Units 12 A/B and 13A.