California Condor

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About California Condors

California condors were placed on the federal Endangered Species list in 1967. Only 22 condors were known to remain in 1982. But despite the best efforts of biologist, their recovery looked bleak, and their situation was desperate.

In 1987, the last wild condor was removed from the wild, and all 27 condors left in the world were being kept in breeding facilities at the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

It was hoped that by raising young condors and releasing them to the wild, the species would be given another chance. But, nobody knew for sure whether captive breeding would be successful. It didn't take long to find out.

The first condor chick hatched out in 1988. Within a few years, it was clear that captive breeding was working. The captive condors had produced more than 100 eggs by 1994. Nearly 20 chicks hatch each year at the three captive breeding centers. The total population grew from 27 birds in 1987 to 161 birds by mid 1999.

Captive-bred condors have been released to the wild in southern California since 1992, and more condors are being released each year. Two other wild condor populations were started in the same way in Arizona and Baja California, Mexico.

Today the total world population exceeds 215 in the wild, with another 177 in captive breeding facilities (as of Jan. 31, 2012).

Where to See a California Condor

California Condors can now be found living wild in nature in only a few locations: California, Utah, and Arizona. And Baja California, Mexico.

In California, try Pinnacles National Monument, south of San Jose. But surprisingly, the Vermilion Cliffs of Arizona may actually be the best location to view and photograph California Condors.

Top Wildlife Photographs -- Click Photo for a Slideshow

California Condor Range Map

Big Sur, California

One of the better places in Big Sur to see California Condors is near the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park entrance. The condors can be seen riding thermal updrafts along the cliffs in the 12 mile range between the park and the town of Big Sur. As of January 2012, there were 23 birds in this area. But note that sightings here are definitely not guaranteed, and most visitors to this small park do not see a Condor.

In Big Sur, the Ventana Wildlife Society offers resonably-priced guided eco tours to view California Condors on the second Sunday of each month. Ventana Wildlife Society also host a variety of privately scheduled tours, and specialty tours. Their guides use radio use radio telemetry to track the Condors within in the beautiful Big Sur coast, giving you a great chance of seeing the Condors. While they don't guarantee a sighting, according to their website nearly all of our tours are successful in viewing free-flying California condors.

Unfortunately, I did not see condors. But note that Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park has one of the most picturesque and unique waterfalls in the US: a breathtaking 80 foot waterfall that drops directly from the cliffs, arcing gracefully and directly into the ocean. ~ William S. Howard

Pinnacle National Monument, California

Currently, 32 California condors currently reside in the area near Pinnacle National Monument. The most likely place to see them is the High Peaks in early morning or early evening, but note that it is a strenuous hike to get to the High Peaks. For easier access, the California Condors also tend to soar above the ridge just south of the campground, where they soar on morning thermals along the ridge and roost in the trees.

Based on on-line reports from visitors both here and in Big Sur, your odds of seeing a California Condor are probably higher here than in Big Sur (unless you go on the guided Ventana Wildlife Society tours). Many more people reported seeing condors here.

I was able to view the Condors from several vantage points and thought it was great from the overlook back around Hawkins peak. To my surprise as I was coming down late in the afternoon to the station, the Condors came directly overhead. Not 1 or 2, but 10. I was able to get 9:30 of this stuff on video and I couldn't believe it. Baby Condors, big Condors, they were all just circling and swooping in and out. Unbelievable. That said, don't think you won't see them, you will. As a side note, the Ranger said there were 33 Condors in the park. By that count, I had 33% directly overhead. ~ Mark A.

Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona

About 75 birds, or one-third of the wild population of California Condor, live in Arizona. In Arizona, reintroduction is being conducted under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act that allows for the designation of a nonessential experimental population. Under this designation, the protections for an endangered species are relaxed, providing greater flexibility for management of a reintroduction program. Under this program, in place since 1996, biologists have released condors every year. Each condor is fitted with radio transmitters and is monitored daily by field biologists.

A condor viewing kiosk is located at the west end of the monument, which invites visitors to look for these enormous black birds. From the kiosk, visitors are almost guaranteed to see condors soaring above the beautiful Vermilion Cliffs at any time of year. Viewing and Photography is best at mid-to late morning with the aid of binoculars and/or a long zoom lens.

Other locations: Atop the cliffs to your east is the location where condors are released, and a good place to see condors year round. In winter months, condors frequent the Colorado River corridor near Marble Canyon, which is east of the condor viewing site on Highway 89A. In the summer months condors are seen frequently at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and at Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park north of St. George, Utah on Interstate Route 15.


To visit the condor viewing site in Arizona, drive north on Highway 89 out of Flagstaff, Arizona. Turn left onto Highway 89A toward Jacob Lake and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Drive approximately 40 miles (past Marble Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs, and Cliff Dwellers lodges); turn right onto House Rock Valley Road (BLM Road 1065) just past the House Rock Valley Chain-Up Area. Travel approximately 2 miles to the condor viewing site on the right.

Zion National Park, Utah

In the summer months, condors are seen frequently at Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park north of St. George, Utah on Interstate Route 15.


Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

California Fish & Game's Condor Page

January 2012 Census