Virgin — If you arrive at the right spot in southern Utah at the right time, some of the largest and rarest birds in the world might soar directly over your head.
On June 18, 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 Lava Point. The point is 21½ miles north of Virgin in southwestern Utah.
Those who attended the event last year were thrilled as they watched eight condors soar in the sky above them. “To give yourself the best chance to see the greatest number of birds,” says Keith Day, a regional sensitive species biologist for the DWR, “try to be at the site by 8 a.m.”
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 21½ miles from Virgin near Kolob Reservoir.
After you’ve traveled 21½ 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.
If you’d like a preview of the type of bird you’ll see at this year’s event, a free video is waiting for you at the DWR’s YouTube
site — www.youtube.com/UDWR.
Once you arrive at www.youtube.com/UDWR, scroll through the video choices on the right side of the page until you find the video titled “Flying giants — rare California condors.”
Day says condor activity in Utah has increased dramatically since 2005. “It’s not unusual to see more than three dozen birds in Utah in the summer months,” he says. “More than 60 condors have been tracked in the Zion area on a single day.”
When you consider how rare California condors are, seeing that many condors in southern Utah is exciting. “The world’s California condor population is estimated at about 391 birds,” Day says. “About half of those birds are free flying. And about half of the free-flying birds are found in Utah and Arizona.
“That means on any given day,” he says, “you have the potential of seeing one-sixth of the world’s wild California condor population right here in southern Utah.”
The California condor is the largest flying bird in the Northern Hemisphere. Its body is about four to five 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 9½ 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.
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.