October 7, 2023

The Incredible Story of the California Condor in Zion National Park

Zion National Park has been inspiring artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and adventurers for over 100 years. The natural beauty found within the park is what first inspired early activists to work to preserve Zion for future generations to enjoy. But there’s inspiration to be found beyond Zion’s landscapes, too. 

The story of the California Condor and its incredible comeback in Zion National Park is definitely a reason for inspiration.

Once extinct in the wild, a massive effort to save this unique species has culminated in an amazing return to Zion. Keep reading to learn more about the California Condor, and how to see one during your visit to Cliffrose Lodge.

The California Condor

The California Condor is the largest flying bird native to North America, and one of the largest flying birds in the world. Weighing up to 20 pounds and with a wingspan that can reach 10 feet, these massive birds are at home on the cliff faces and mountains of the American Southwest,. They build their nests high up so that they can more easily soar from them. 

But while the American Southwest may now be their only territory, this massive bird once called much more of the nation home, with a habitat reaching to New York, Florida, Mexico, and even British Columbia in Canada.

The Path to Extinction

Hundreds of years ago, the California Condor likely numbered in the tens of thousands. But for the last century, the species has been under attack from a number of sources. Early settlers hunted or captured these birds. Their territory shrunk as cities and towns were built. Lead-shot in rifles used for hunting also led to their rapid demise, as the Condor is a carrion bird, so it feeds on carcasses, including those who had been shot. The lead shot in the bullets proves fatal when the Condor eats meat that has been tainted.

Later in the 1900s, other threats, like wind turbines and the use of pesticides, further reduced their numbers. By the late 1980s, there were less than 30 known California Condors alive in the wild.

An Incredible Comeback Story

With the species’ numbers now critically low, experts stepped in. They took the remaining California Condors into captivity, placing them in a carefully managed breeding program in both the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The species was officially extinct in the wild.

The program was a huge success. As the animals bred, they were slowly released back into the wild. Over three decades, these captive-bred Condors were released across California, northern Arizona, and Baja California. Today, there are more than 400 California Condors living in the American Southwest.

The California Condor Returns to Zion National Park

While the California Condor has made a strong comeback in the Southwest, at first, they didn’t have a strong presence in Zion National Park. Around 70 Condors currently live between Arizona and Utah, with Zion falling in between the two. This means that California Condors regularly pass through the park. But until recently, they hadn’t nested in Zion.

In the 2010s, several California Condor pairs nested in the park. Then, in 2019, a baby Condor made it past the fledgling stage, when they flew from the nest, for the first time. Named Condor 1,000 and nicknamed 1K, this exciting event elicited crowds of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the new baby. It was yet another win in the incredible comeback story of the species.

Seeing the California Condor in Zion

If you’re hoping to catch sight of a California Condor during your stay in our Zion resort, there are a few places you can go. The California Condor is frequently seen soaring above or perched on Angels Landing, as well as on Kolob Terrace Road, near Lava Point. They live in and around the park from May to November each year, though they are most often seen during the summer months. The Condor can travel up to 100 miles in a single day in search of food, so if you don’t see one, consider coming back another day to see if they’ve returned.

The California Condor is naturally curious about people. As with any wildlife, it’s important to never approach, feed, or harass the California Condor. If you do see a Condor within reach of people, let a park ranger know. If you are able to see it, make note of the bird’s tag number to share with the rangers as well.

Planning Your Next Visit to Cliffrose Lodge

Whether you’re dreaming of seeing a California Condor or prefer to relax and unwind during your vacation, Cliffrose Lodge is the perfect spot for your next getaway. Located just a short walk or ride to the park, with a beautiful on-site spa, pools and hot tubs, a delicious restaurant, and more, everything you need for an amazing getaway is right here. If you’re ready to start planning your next adventure, book your stay at Cliffrose Lodge today!

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