Grand Canyon goes to the birds for Sept. 10 festival

California Condors were released back into the Grand Canyon 20 years ago after a successful captive breeding program. Photo/NPS

California Condors were released back into the Grand Canyon 20 years ago after a successful captive breeding program. Photo/NPS

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began one of its most challenging captive breeding programs in 1983, less than 20 critically endangered California condors remained in the wild.

Once prominent across the U.S. and frequently nesting in the Grand Canyon, the population of one of the world's largest birds of prey dwindled drastically due to habitat destruction, unintentional poisoning, shooting and egg collecting.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of Arizona's condor reintroduction, and the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty, the National Park Service (NPS) will be hosting Talkin' Birds Weekend Sept. 10-11 in Grand Canyon National Park. All events are free and open to the public and will include educational opportunities, bird walks, demonstrations and presentations by various birding and environmental organizations.

In December 1996, The Peregrine Fund released six captive-bred condors back into the Grand Canyon area near Vermillion Cliffs, marking the first time since 1924 that the birds were seen flying in the national park. Today, there are five active nesting sites in the Vermillion Cliffs and Grand Canyon National Park, with subsequently-released birds now producing offspring regularly in the wild. Because of the Migratory Bird Treaty, the condors, as well as their nests and eggs, are protected from hunting or trade.

In addition to helping visitors identify different bird species that call the park home, the birding walks will also help biologists working with the Grand Canyon Wildlife Program at the park. Participants will be encouraged to use iNaturalist, a species inventory program, to catalog sightings at the event. Park biologists will use the data collected by visitors to help in their efforts to develop park management strategies and preserve the ecological integrity of five of the continent's seven life zones and three of its four desert types.

Talkin' Birds is an annual event, but HawkWatch International, located at Yaki Point on the eastern portion of the South Rim, operates daily for visitors from March-Oct. HawkWatch International crew members identify, count and catalog migrating raptors along the southern reaches of the Intermountain Flyway, one of the continent's busiest flight paths for birds of all species. To date, observers have cataloged 19 different raptor species passing through the Grand Canyon National Park.

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