PHOENIX - Once a year, people get a rare opportunity in Arizona that very few other places offer - to witness the release of endangered California condors into the wild. The public is invited to attend this year's event Sept. 26 at 11 a.m. when previously-captive condors will be released at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
This marks the 19th annual public release of condors in Arizona since the condor recovery program began in 1996.
Condors are hatched and reared in captivity at The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, and transported to Arizona for release to the wild. Condors chosen for release also come from the Oregon Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
Condors were added to the federal endangered species list in 1967. It is the largest flying land bird in North America and weighs up to 26 pounds with up to a 9 and a half foot wingspan.
There are now 70 condors in the northern Arizona - southern Utah population. However, lead poisoning remains the main obstacle to a self-sustaining population and the leading cause of death for the birds in this area.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) implemented a lead-reduction program in 2005 aimed at hunters drawn for hunts in the condor's core range. Last year, 91 percent of hunters voluntarily participated in the effort to reduce the lead available to the birds by using non-lead ammunition or removing lead-tainted gut piles from the field.
The world's total population of endangered condors is 431, with more than half of them in the wild in Arizona, Utah, California and Mexico.
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 25 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 approximately one mile from the viewing point. Several spotting scopes will be available to the public, although participants are encouraged to bring their own binoculars or spotting scopes for better viewing.