The Canyon Boasts a Bounty of Birds
The Grand Canyon lays claim to encompassing one of the most diverse biological ecosystems on Earth. Five of the seven life zones and three of the four types of deserts can be found in and around the canyon walls. As such, bird enthusiasts are hard-pressed to spend a day at the Canyon and not witness an eclectic assortment of some of nature’s most interesting birds.
From the lush vegetation of the riparian zone to the desert scrub along the cliffs of the inner canyon, to the dense coniferous forests, 373 bird species have been recorded in and around the Grand Canyon, making these diverse habitats home.
Riparian: The lush landscape and diverse plant life of the Riparian life zone attract 250 of the 373 bird species recorded in the greater Grand Canyon area. Many birds use the Colorado River corridor as a migration corridor or as an overwintering habitat.
Desert Scrub: According to the National Park Service, approximately 30 bird species breed in the desert uplands and cliffs of the inner canyon. In fact, park biologisst believe approximately 100 pairs of peregrine falcon <link> nest along the cliffs of the inner canyon in the desert scrub region. The eastern portion of the region has been known as a strong habitat site for the California Condor <link>.
Coniferous Forests: Most of the birds that breed in the coniferous forests do so in the summertime. This can be problematic to the forest’s animal residents because forest fires undoubtedly affect their population. Goshawks and spotted owls are known to favor the conifer forests along the North and South Rims.
This small blue bird is a common site around the Grand Canyon as it favors the confines of the Pinyon Pines and other conifers for its habitat. The pinyon jay is quite social and is most often seen in flocks that can reach sizeable numbers. Their raucous chatter makes up for their small statue as they forage for pine seeds.
- Pinyon jays are considered a large songbird.
- Each jay can store thousands of seeds each year and has such a good memory; it can remember where most of them are hidden.
- The social grouping of pinyon jays is thought to be quite complex with permanent flocks numbering over 500 birds!
Viewing Opportunities: Because of their abundance in population and tendency to travel in large flocks, tourists of the Grand Canyon are often treated to frequent sightings of the pinyon jays.
The Grand Canyon is one of the few places in the world this endangered species can still be spotted in the wild. They are the largest scavenger species with a wingspan over nine feet wide and with a fascinating history as their existence hinged on the brink of extinction.
The story of the California Condor is long and storied. In Pleistocene times, condors were a common species at the Grand Canyon judging by the fossils, feathers and eggshells scientists have unearthed in caves in the Canyon. The first of two dramatic reductions in the condor population occurred around 10,000 years ago around the time of the Pleistocene extinction of large animals such as mastodons, sabre tooth tigetrs and giant ground sloths – all prey to the great condor.
Later, as people began occupying the West, the California Condor suffered greatly from the shooting, egg collecting, power line collisions and general destruction of their habitats. According to the National Park Service, by the 1930’s, no condors remained outside of California. Despite being placed on the federal Endangered Species List in 1967, by 1982, the total population had dwindled to a mere 22 birds.
In 1983, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teamed up with several zoos and bird centers to begin a revolutionary captive breeding program, eventually bringing all remaining condors into captivity for protection and breeding purposes. The task wouldn’t be easy. California Condors don’t reach sexual maturity until six years of age and even then mate only once every other year and produce only one chick at a time, making it nearly impossible to foster a lasting recovery. Thanks to the creative efforts of scientists with methods that included incubating extra eggs, captive-bred condors were slowly being released back into the wild in California in 1992. By December, 1996, six captive-bred were released in the Vermillion Cliffs, 30 miles south of the Grand Canyon National Park.
According to the National Park Service, more than 70 condors roam the skies over northern Arizona and southern Utah with many of them coming from the wild nest caves in and around the Grand Canyon.
- California Condors are curious creatures and are especially attracted to human activity. If you see a perched condor, do not approach it or offer it food.
- If you see a California Condor close enough to read it’s tag, you can look up more information about it from the Condor Tag Chart.
Viewing Opportunities: According to the National Park Service, the condors that frequent the Grand Canyon do so especially during the summertime.
A successfully rehabilitated bird species, the bald eagle is found soaring in and around the Grand Canyon. It’s probably most known for its status as the national bird of the United States. Many credit its revival to its placement on the Endangered Species List. It was removed from the endangered list in 2007. Today, the bald eagle can be found in various parts of the United States including the Grand Canyon.
- The bald eagle is a large bird with an impressive 80 inch wingspan.
- Female eagles are larger than their male counterparts.
- Since bald eagles mainly eat fish, they primarily nest close to large bodies of water. Arizona bald eagles are known to build their nests on cliff edges, in pinyon and ponderosa pines and cottonwood trees.
- Arizona bald eagles typically breed earlier than their northern relatives in January or February.
Viewing Opportunities: Bald eagles, migrating to Arizona from the north in the wintertime are known to congregate at lakes and rivers along the Mogollon Rim.
The peregrine falcon is another success story often sighted at the Grand Canyon. The population of falcon was brought to frighteningly low numbers when thousands died eating prey that had ingested DDT, a toxic insecticide, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Rehabilitation efforts kicked into high gear by placing them on the Endangered Species List and banning DDT. Peregrine like to nest in high places, making the Grand Canyon and optimal habitat.
Peregrine falcons are large, predatory raptors with a wingspan of 3 ½ feet. They are aerial hunters, often seen plunging off of cliffs to attack their prey. They have strong talons that allow them to capture other birds, even in flight.
- Because of their desire to nest in high places, cities have accommodated the fragile species by keeping their nests in unusual places like skyscrapers and bridges! Peregrine have returned the favor to the cities in these urban areas by feasting on unwanted rodents such as pigeons and rats.
- Peregrine falcons have the ability to fly long distances – even across continents – to get to from their winter habitats to their breeding grounds.
Viewing Opportunities: Because of their preference to attack their prey from above, look to the cliffs and mountain tops for the best chances to see a peregrine falcon.
Did You Know? The California Condor is one of the rarest birds in the world. Its existence dates back to prehistoric times and was brought to the brink of extinction nearly 100 years ago. Thanks to partnerships by wildlife organizations and zoo’s, the condor is making a comeback.