Their flight is rock steady, with wings perfectly outstretched on either side, primaries spread like fingers at the tips. They'll spend hours like this, going as high as 15,000 feet and hundreds of miles in a day. And I can tell you, these pictures don't do them justice.
Nearly all of the condors in canyon country today have been released there from the breeding program (more on that below), and bear plastic numbered ID tags on their wings, as well as radio transmitters. At times, they were so close we could read the numbers through binoculars.
Meanwhile, here are Michael and I, as I took our picture just before the surprise of a lifetime. Nice camera shadow...did I mention I was a professional? Mike's already scanning the skies.
One of the condors perched on a ledge, just hanging out. They relax and wait for the wind to be just right. Taking off, they expend as little energy as necessary: just one or two flaps of those incredible wings, and then they're soaring on the thermals for hours.
The same view, pulled out to show the condor in context with the canyon.
This was the unexpected culmination of a dream of a lifetime for me. Condors captured my heart in the 1980s and became sacred animals for me, even as I learned that they were in grave danger of extinction. I drew pictures of them and even named my studio Whitecondor Studio. In the spring of 1987, just as I was taking my first tour around the Southwest, the last wild condor was captured and brought into captivity in Southern California for a controversial breeding program. It was an almost desperate measure to try and increase their numbers and someday release them back into the wild.
When their numbers were at their lowest, there were only 22 condors left alive.
The captive breeding program was a success, and in 1992, the first captive-raised condors were released in California. In 1996, the year we moved to our home in New Mexico, the first condors were released at the Vermillion Cliffs north of the Grand Canyon, part of their ancestal territory. They quickly discovered the Canyon, condor nirvana, and have become--incredibly--a common sight on the South Rim.
Today, there are nearly 300 condors alive, and several dozen call the Grand Canyon and the surrounding country home.
When I first visited the Canyon in '87, the idea of seeing condors flying in the Southwestern skies seemed like an impossible dream. At most, I hoped someday, once in my lifetime, to see one flying free somewhere. On Sunday, October 26, 2008, that dream unexpectedly came true as I returned to the Grand Canyon and saw not one, but five breathtaking condors flying wild, so close that I heard the wind whistling in their wings.
If you would like to contribute to the restoration of the condors, please visit
thanks...until next time,