If you arrive at the right spot in Southern Utah early enough, some of the largest and rarest birds in the world might be soaring directly over your head.
On June 19, 2010, the Division of Wildlife Resources will host its annual California condor viewing event. Dubbed "The Day of the Condor," the free event runs from 8 a.m. to noon at an area 21 miles north of Virgin in Southwestern Utah.
Those who attended the event last year were thrilled as they watched 17 condors soar in the sky above them. "To give yourself the best chance to see the greatest number of birds, try to arrive at the site as close to 8 a.m. as you can," says Keith Day, regional sensitive species biologist for the DWR.
You can see what others have seen at events in past years by viewing a free video at www.youtube.com/user/UDWR.
To reach the viewing site, take state Route 9 to Virgin. Then turn off Route 9 at the Kolob Reservoir turnoff in Virgin, and travel north through Zion National Park. The viewing site is 21 miles from Virgin near Kolob Reservoir.
After you've traveled 21 miles, look for DWR officers directing cars into a parking area on the south side of the road.
Biologists from the DWR, the National Park Service and the Peregrine Fund will be available to answer your questions. Free information about condors will also be available.
A condor viewing hotspot
"Condor activity in Utah has increased dramatically since 2005," Day says. "It's not unusual to see two dozen birds in Utah in the summer months. And in October last year, a total of 54 condors were seen in the Zion area on a single day.
"That's very exciting when you consider how rare this bird is," Day says. "The world's California condor population is estimated at about 350 birds. And just over half of those birds are free flying. About half of the free-flying birds are found in Utah and Arizona.
"That means on any given day, you have the potential of seeing one-sixth of the world's wild California condor population right here in southern Utah."
A large and unique bird
The California condor is the largest flying bird in the Northern Hemisphere. Its body is about 4 to 5 feet long from head to tail. That makes the bird impressive to see, even when it isn't flying. In fact, with a wingspan of about 9 feet and weighing between 16 and 23 pounds, condors are especially impressive to see in flight.
Adults are a dull black with white coloring under their wings. Their bald heads are covered with yellow, orange and red skin.
Young condors have a black head and don't have the white underwings the adults have. But they're about the same size as the adults. On the ground or in the air, the young condors are just as impressive to see as the adults.
Taking care of their young
Condors usually reach maturity when they're six to seven years old. When they reach that age, they choose a mate. They'll remain with that mate for the rest of their life.
Condors usually lay a single egg on the floor of a small cave or crevice on the side of a cliff. Both parents help incubate the egg. It takes about 56 days for the egg to hatch.
After the egg hatches, the young condor will remain in its cave for about two to three months. Then it will venture out. But it won't fledge (take its first flight) until it's five or six months old.
The young condor's parents will take care of it for a full year, and sometimes even longer. Because of their devotion to their young, the condor pair may nest every two years instead of every year.
For more information about the Day of the Condor viewing event, call the DWR's Southern Region office at 435-865-6100.