Getting To Know Condors -- Up Close -- At Grand Canyon National Park

Live bird shows featuring condors and raptors are being offered at the National Geographic Visitor Center near the entrance to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Joel Kramer, National Geographic Visitor Center, Grand Canyon-IMAX Theater.

California condors, with their rare status and 10-foot wingspan, likely qualify as charismatic megafauna for many visitors to Grand Canyon National Park. And now the folks at the National Geographic Visitor Center near the South Rim's entrance are bringing the birds to you for a close-up.

Spotting condors floating on the air currents off the South Rim can be a hit-and-miss proposition. During my last visit there, back at least five years ago or so, I was fortunate to see some of the big birds on cliff roosts just below the Rim Trail.

To guarantee you a view of condors, the National Geographic Visitor Center a mile south of the canyon's South Rim entrance has created a live bird show that features condors -- an Andean condor is standing in for a California condor -- and other raptors.

The shows, offered daily through mid-September, provide audiences with closeups of free-flying falcons, eagles, owls and the magnificent bird with a 10-foot wingspan that gives this show its name – the Condor Encounter. Held in an outdoor amphitheater within the visitor center complex, the shows treat audiences to birds flying overhead and interpretation that explains how the different species survive.

Also presented are facts about birds of prey, conservation efforts, and how everyone can help protect these species. The Grand Canyon Condor Encounter live bird show is produced and presented by Joe Krathwohl from Birds and Beast Production. He was hired by the National Geographic Visitor Center and has been working for the past 12 months to develop the show. It blends and balances entertainment, education and conservation all in a 20-minute presentation. The show features some 12 to 15 raptor and other bird species, including a magnificent Andean condor, a close relative of the California condor.

“The National Geographic Visitor Center is excited to offer an up-close encounter with these raptors and other birds as part of our commitment to entertain, educate and enlighten visitors from around the world about natural wonders and wildlife here at the Grand Canyon,” said Brent Kok, visitor center and IMAX theater director. “Our goal is to make sure our visitors gain a higher level of understanding and appreciation for this special place in order for them to get the most out of their vacation experience at the Grand Canyon.”

Of course, these shows are not free. Ticket prices range from $7.13 for kids age 6-12 to $9.88 for those customers 13 and older. But the National Geographic Visitor Center and IMAX Theater has partnered with the nonprofit Peregrine Fund and proceeds from the shows help support the group’s ongoing efforts at returning condors to northern Arizona’s wild canyon country.

“This is a really exciting form of interpretation, said Chris Parish, California condor reintroduction project director for The Peregrine Fund. “It’s a form of interpretation that is going to have a lasting impact on individuals. All of our work is for naught, unless the public is aware of the condors’ comeback in the wild. This effort plays an integral role in conservation.”

Mr. Parish added that while federal and state land management agencies are key partners in recovery efforts and provide some funding for reintroduction efforts of the federally listed endangered California Condor, The Peregrine Fund also has been taking a lead role and raises and spends about $800,000 each year in the group’s highly successful efforts at bringing condors back into the wild.