- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK (AP) — The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has long been a favorite of human visitors gawking at the stunning views and taking advantage of the man-made services.

As it turns out, the South Rim also is a favorite of endangered California condors — for many of the same reasons. The large birds often gather to watch people, socialize with one another and drink from a leaky water pipe.

On some days, as many as 25 to 30 condors soar over the canyon area — more birds than were in existence a generation ago when officials decided to capture and breed them.

The birds, which have dull orange featherless heads with a stubby beak and dark body feathers, were introduced on an experimental basis into the Arizona wild in 1996. What began with the release of six birds 50 miles north of here has led to a flock of 53, including some of the first wild-born condors since the early 1980s.

Two of the three fledglings hatched in Arizona have survived, and three other condor pairs are nesting this year, said Chris Parish, the Peregrine Fund’s condor director in Arizona. The nonprofit group runs a breeding facility in Boise, Idaho, where the birds are hatched and prepared for release, and has overseen Arizona’s condor program.

Mr. Parish and others say it’s too early to call the experiment a success because the population isn’t yet self-sustaining.

“But we finally have a foothold,” he said. “I, for one, have confidence … we’re well on our way.”

California condors are among the largest birds native to North America and have no natural predators. With a wingspan up to 91/2 feet, they have a reach 2 feet wider than National Basketball Association giant Yao Ming, who is 7-foot-6.

The condors, which can live up to 60 years, were driven to near extinction by the early 1980s. Shootings, poisonings and collisions with power lines, combined with their naturally low reproductive rate, shriveled the birds’ population.

To keep them from extinction, federal officials and nonprofit groups began to capture the birds and breed them in the hope they could be released into the wild again.

Today, there are about 120 birds in the wild in Arizona, Central and Southern California and coastal Mexico.

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