A Photo In The Life Of

A Photo In the Life Of is a weekly photo blog written by Larry Lewis. Topics include photo opportunities, past and present, product reviews and other topics of interest to photographers and photo lovers.

California Condor #75

The California Condor has a wing span of up to 3 meters.

California Condor soaring overhead.

Yvonne and I were in Arizona in September, 2006 and took a bus tour of the Grand Canyon. It was an amazing day that included an unexpected experience. 

As I stepped out of the bus in the South Gate Parking Lot unloading zone a large vulture-like bird soared over. I was able to get my camera up in time and got a snapshot of the passing bird.
I never gave another thought to the bird until later in the day when we again saw it, this time sunning on one of the cliffs on the edge of the canyon. It was very large and ominous looking. I assumed it was a turkey vulture, which is common in Ontario and many places in North America.
I switched to my telephoto zoom lens and trained it on my subject. It was at that point that I notice the large number 75 tagged on the birds wing. This peaked my interest and I spent some time shooting the strange creature.

Once I got home I did some research and discovered that my subject was a California Condor, a bird that was extinct in the wild in 1987. 

The population was reduced to 22 birds in the 20th century due to lead poisoning, poaching and habitat destruction. Lead poisoning, according to The Ecologist magazine in January 2015, is responsible for 60% of the deaths. They get poisoned by their food sources having been shot with lead ammunition. In 1987 the last 22 Condors were captured and taken to the San Diego and Los Angeles Zoos where they  were bred. In 1991 the zoos began to slowly re-introduce them into the wild.  The California Condor is still one of the most endangered bird species. According to the National Parks Service, as of September 30, 2014 there were 432 in the world of which 232 were in the wild. All the wild birds are located in Arizona, California and Baja California, Mexico.

The National Park Service posts updates to the California Condor population on their website. They report deaths, births, failed births and missing. The reports are very detailed. 

In my research I discovered some interesting facts on the California Condor:

  1. It is the largest North American land bird, weighing up to 12kg (26Ibs) and having a wing span of up to 3m (9.8ft)
  2. It is one of the world's longest-living birds with a lifespan of up to 60 years.  They only have 1 mate for life and do not breed until they are at least 6 years old.
  3. They only lay one egg and raise 1 chick every 2 years which is a contributing factor in their decline.
  4. California Condors travel up to 250km (160mi) per day in search of food. (They are scavengers and feed on large animal carcasses)
  5. They have no natural predators other than humans. 

So how is #75?

California Condor #75 is a male and will be 13 years old in 2015. He was born at the Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho and was released in the Grand Canyon in 2003. If things go the way they should, #75 will still be soaring the skies of the Grand Canyon after my traveling days are over.  

My lesson learned on this photo day was to do some research after the shoot in addition to before. You never know the significance of your imagery until you know! I also learned the value of good quality image backup. Memory was not as reliable and was a lot more expensive back then. I lost over a half day of image files due to backup failure. Luckily I didn't lose these images! This may be a topic for a future blog.     

All shots were taken with my old Canon 10D with 75-300mm f4-5.6 USM Lens. I have long since traded both in. I wish I had my Sigma 150-500mm back then! 

Thanks to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, arizona-leisure.com, defenders.org, The Ecologist and The Nation Parks Service in the U.S., all of which I consulted in the research of this article.


A Photo In The Life Of is a weekly PHOTO blog on LARRYLEWISPHOTO.COM.   It is an evolution of my original blog A Photo in the life of  that began in 2006.  I hope to give a little context to my photography and maybe make a few new photography friends. To purchase a print visit Shop. If the image is not listed Contact Me for availability.

If you are interested in learning about lead in game hunting ammunition I found an interesting video on the National Parks site. Please be warned, the video is not graphic but it is concerning. In many instances lead shot has been banned, specifically in hunting waterfowl, but in the U.S. the debate continues and heated up in December, mostly due to the NRA lobby. There are so many jurisdictions involved in the debate it's not an easy topic to research.