The trout-rich waters of the Colorado River make it an ideal habitat for bald eagles during the winter, but the most famous bird at the Grand Canyon is also one of the rarest bird species in the world — the California condor. With a featherless head and neck and a nine-foot wingspan, the homely scavenger might not be the prettiest bird in the sky, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Although the vulture’s range once extended from coast to coast — albeit in prehistoric times, when large animals were far more plentiful in North America — habitat reduction, shooting, and poisoning from lead and pesticides reduced its numbers to 22 birds by 1982. Drastic measures were taken to save the species in the mid-1980s, when it was decided to take all remaining condors into captivity. The condors are slow to breed compared to other species, so breeding in captivity, protected from hostile external forces, helped bolster their numbers. Reintroduction to the wild began in California in 1992.
The Grand Canyon region has been a principal site of California condor habitation since 1996, when six condors were released into the wild from captivity at Vermillion Cliffs, 30 miles from the park. Today there are about 70 condors soaring in the skies above the Grand Canyon. The park maintains an online condor bulletin board, including up-to-date population numbers and siting news.
Mountain Lions are a primary predator in Grand Canyon National Park. In 2003, National Park Service biologists began tracking mountain lions in the Grand Canyon using GPS and high-frequency radio tags. This research would help track mountain lion behavior and establish ranges for tagged animals, which in turn led to increased safety for both lions and park visitors.
This work built upon an earlier survey of track counts and scent posts, but was greatly expanded through the efforts of park service biologist Eric York, who initiated the practice of using radio collars to track mountain lions. York’s “skill with trapping techniques and compassion in handling captured cats was key to the successful implementation of the telemetry program,” according to the park’s website.
Tragically, York succumbed to pneumonic plague that he likely contracted from the infected carcass of a mountain lion that he had brought in to autopsy in 2007. Lion capture in the park has since been suspended as the park service develops safeguards for researchers.
Prior to the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam, native populations of fish thrived in the waters of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The species native to the area, such as the humpback chub, had adapted to the intense seasonal fluctuations in temperature and other conditions in the river. Regulation of those conditions due to the dam, and increased competition from non-native species like trout have had a profound detrimental impact on the chub and other native fish in the park.
Once ubiquitous in the Colorado River, the chub’s numbers have dwindled so low that the fish was put on the federal endangered species list. A ban on fishing chub, and a program of translocation of juvenile fish from its native habitat to Shinumo Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River are two countermeasures that have been taken on its behalf.