Once on the brink of extinction, California condors are growing in numbers.
North America's largest birds—California condors—survived into the 20th century from the time of mammoths and mastodons. But poaching, poisoning, and habitat loss nearly drove them extinct. By 1982, only 22 remained, some in the mountains of central California, others in captivity. The last wild condor was carefully captured and placed in a breeding program in 1987.
Today, condors' numbers have grown to 400, more than half of them flying free. In California, soaring condors can often be spied from pullouts along scenic Highway 1 in Big Sur. Or stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to scan the sky with binoculars. To learn where the birds have recently been spotted around Big Sur, visit the website mycondor.org.
Pinnacles National Park, east of California's Salinas Valley, claims a flock of three dozen condors (831-389-4485, nps.gov/pinn). The Ventana Wildlife Society offers two-hour condor-viewing tours on the second Sunday of each month (831-455-9514, ventanaws.org). You can also spot captive condors at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (760-747-8702, sdzsafaripark.org) and the Santa Barbara Zoo (805-962-5339, sbzoo.org).
The nation's largest captive flock of condors—more than 50—thrives at the Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho. Visitors are welcome at the center's Condor Cliffs exhibit (208-362-8687, peregrinefund.org).
Birds reared in Boise are often released near Arizona's Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, 75 miles east of Kanab, Utah (435-688-3200, blm.gov/az/st/en.html). Some stay and nest nearby; others head to the Grand Canyon (928-638-7888, nps.gov/grca), where they're often seen soaring over the South Rim.
This article was first published in March 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.