Condors in Zion National Park:
Here we have Zion National Park. We’re looking up the canyon at all these beautiful, beautiful cliffs and rock structures. This is one of the reasons [why] people come, but when you talk to people who come here, even from around the world, one of the things on their list is condors. Can I see a condor? So there’s a lot of interest about condors and to think that in Arizona and Utah we have probably a quarter of the California condors that exist in the whole world, that’s kind of an exciting thought.
My name’s Keith Day. I’m a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in Cedar City, Utah and I am responsible, in some regard, for California condor management.
All of the releases for this population have occurred in Arizona and this population is focused around the Grand Canyon ecosystem. The birds discovered Utah and really started moving up into Utah by 2005. And now, essentially, any bird will travel to Utah at some point in time for some period of time during the year. And this pair in Zion this year moved into the main canyon. They’re in an area where they’re actually visible from the visitor center and the administration center and the museum, so we’ve been able to keep a close eye on them. The chick has been produced, it’s been observed on several occasions, which is really exciting. The park has been really good about condor issues and maintaining support for the condor recovery program and they’re really excited to host the first nesting pair in the state of Utah for a couple of hundred years. The sad thing about it is the male of the pair was found dead and so the female is raising the chick by herself and apparently doing just fine, the chick is still thriving.
There is paleontological and archeological evidence that condors existed across the country in historic times. As white settlement increased there seems to have been some impact on the condors and one of the biggest things is lead poisoning. That was recognized years and years ago as one of the challenges for condors. We still have that issue. We’ve done really well as far as establishing this Arizona-Utah population and the populations in California. But, we still have death in the population and when we can determine the cause of that death, the majority of them are due to lead poisoning. Studies have indicated that lead poisoning is tied most specifically to lead ammunition and although it’s a good thing to have remains of game animals in the field for condors, it’s not a good thing if they have lead in them. And that’s what’s led to the voluntary programs in Arizona and Utah to ask hunters to use non-lead ammunition when they’re hunting in condor range. And we’ve had a lot of support for that here in Utah.
To see them soaring around, especially when they’re on the wing on a thermal they’re really really quite graceful. You know they have that distinct black feathering on the adults with the white under the wing. I just enjoy seeing wildlife and I think that most people in Utah do. We talk about one of our mottos in Utah is “Life Elevated” one of the reasons people come to Utah is because of the wild aspect, the scenic aspect, we have a diversity of habitats, and the wildlife aspect. We have a whole panoply of things that add to the value of life in Utah because of our wildness and condors are a part of that. And the fact that they’re a listed species and they’re so few really kind of accentuates that in that regard. Well this is Keith Day, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources California condor recovery program, in a windy day in Zion National Park. Thanks for listening to Wild About Utah and take care.
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Jessie Bunkley
Text: Jessie Bunkley. Wildlife technician, Utah DWR/Jessie Bunkley, Graduate Teaching Assistant, BNR, Utah State University with assistance from Keith Day, Utah DWR
Sources & Additional Reading
California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) recovery plan. Third revision., US FWS, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/singleitem/collection/document/id/1246
California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System, US FWS, https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=B002