Once virtually extinct condor species spotted by hiker on Zion’s Angels Landing hiking trail

Jan 19, 2022, 1:17 PM | Updated: Jan 20, 2022, 11:02 am
California condor #1111 was spotted in January 2022 along the Angels Landing trail in Zion National...
California condor #1111 was spotted in January 2022 along the Angels Landing trail in Zion National Park (Shane Wayment via Utah DNR)
(Shane Wayment via Utah DNR)

ZION NATIONAL PARK — The California condor once had only 22 of its species left in the world so when a hiker navigated the Angels Landing trail in Zion National Park and spotted a recent hatching, it was a joyful sighting for more than camera man Shane Wayment.

Seeing a bird in the wild — when in 1982 all of the remaining wild birds were captured and held in captivity for safekeeping and a successful breeding program — is a victory for the birds but also for the many government agencies that contributed to the comeback. The bird, named and tagged #1111 to help with measuring the population, was the second wild-hatched nestling in Zion National Park to mature enough to grow the feathers needed for flight.

Wayment spotted #1111 while hiking the 8-mile roundtrip strenuous trail that leads to a shocking overview of the park called Observation Point. Seeing a rarely-spotted bird standing around posing for photos was a bonus.

“It’s not every day you get to see a critically endangered species up close in the wild,” Utah’s Division of Natural Resources said of the experience Wayment had. He managed to capture the bird both in profile and in a front view while it perched on some snow with the red-rock canyons behind it.

It was just last September when little hatching #1111 hit the milestone of surviving to reach the fledgling stage to help its kind’s progress.

“This 1111th condor is the product of the united efforts of citizens, biologists, government and nongovernment agencies to keep these magnificent birds flying fee,” the National Park Service said of the maturing bird in 2021.

“We are incredibly excited to see a second nestling fledge at Zion National Park,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Avian Conservation Program Coordinator Russ Norvell said. “The recovery of this endangered species requires a lot of strong partnerships and hard work by so many, and we are thrilled to see some of those efforts paying off. We look forward to the continuing recovery of these unique birds.”

According to NPS, the condors once scavenged on mammoths and giant sloths 40,000 years ago and would have been found around much of North America. Now the growing but still critically endangered species have a small range in Utah, Arizona, northern Mexico and, of course, California.

They typically nest in caves or crevices where the female lays an egg. Both parents share incubation that lasts approximately 57 days. Both parents feed regurgitated meat by both parents with lead poisoning as the primary cause of death among the birds. It remains an obstacle of population recovery. Hunters, and others, can help reduce the amount of led in the environment and thus improve the chances of condor survival.

Scientists carefully track the population and know that 1111’s mother was 409, hatched in the San Diego Zoo and released at Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in 2008. The father was 523, hatched in 2009 in Boise, Idaho at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey. In September NPS said 1111 would be dependent on its parents for 12 to 14 more months.

Raising a condor is apparently hard work for adults who typically produce one egg every other year. The current population numbers more than 500 birds with half flying free in the wild. The Utah / Arizona population numbered 103 in September. The climbing routes on the east face of Angels Landing are closed until further notice for condor activity.

To learn more about the California condor, visit: peregrinefund.org/projects/california-condor

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Once virtually extinct condor species spotted by hiker on Zion’s Angels Landing hiking trail