Condor release later this month

A California condor soars over Grand Canyon. Four more are scheduled for release on Saturday, March 15.

A California condor soars over Grand Canyon. Four more are scheduled for release on Saturday, March 15.

People will get an annual opportunity to witness the release of four young condors from the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 15.

"It's always a thrill to add more individuals to this growing flock, but these birds will face many challenges growing up, especially the danger of lead poisoning, their leading cause of death," said Chris Parish, condor field project supervisor with The Peregrine Fund, the group releasing the birds.

The California condor has gone from only 22 birds left in the world in 1982 to nearly 300 today. The original 22 birds were captured in an effort to breed and save the species.

Condors produced in captivity are now periodically released at sites in California, Mexico and at the Vermilion Cliffs.

"The California condor is one of the great endangered species successes in the country, and to be able to share that with the public is very rewarding," said Kathy Sullivan, a condor biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "It is exhilarating to witness the release and watch the birds fly free."

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 in Arizona in 1996, and they now number 61 in the state.

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 condor's core range, which includes Game Management Units 12 A/B and 13A.

Surveys show that more than 80 percent of hunters took measures last year to reduce the amount of lead available to condors versus 60 percent in 2006.

To view the condor release, drive north on Highway 89 out of Flagstaff. Turn left (west) onto Highway 89A toward Jacob Lake and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Drive about 40 miles past Marble Canyon until you turn right onto House Rock Valley Road (BLM Road 1065).

Travel about three miles to a shaded viewing area on the right. On top of the cliffs to your east will be the location where the condors are released. The release site is about a mile from the view point. Several spotting scopes will be available, although participants are encouraged to bring their own binoculars or spotting scopes for better viewing.

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