The Return of the Condor

Editor note: Rita Faruki, a NAAS member, had the good fortune to witness the release of Condors at Vermilion Cliffs. This is her moving account of that event.

The Arizona Game & Fish had put out a public notice that they were going to do their annual release of endangered California Condors on September 22, the day of the Fall Equinox. The release site is in Northern Arizona on the Navajo Reservation at Vermillion Cliffs, a beautiful and remote site of reddish cliffs at the base of which are grasslands-perfect condor habitat.

I made the trip with a girlfriend. We spent the night amongst the cliffs along the Colorado River at Marble Canyon, with a nearly full moon. It is spectacular country and very familiar to my husband and me as part of our years on Navajo Land.

There were people from all over the world and it was very much like an eclipse party-people with all kinds of camera equipment and scopes were in attendance. The Game & Fish had a line of scopes and even a TV because they were recording the release. We were all scattered about the grasslands at the base of the cliffs. Up on top of the cliffs was the flight cage that housed four captive condors. You could see them bouncing around in the cage, big wings with white on them. The biologists had put some carrion up on the red rocks near the flight cage. A few wild condors were slowly circling the area, waiting for the release, just like us! They would slowly teeter over the area, waiting for their brethren to emerge and join up. The captive birds could see and hear their compadres milling about. Anticipation was high for humans and winged ones alike.

A Red-tailed Hawk has a 4 foot wingspan; a Golden Eagle has 7 feet of wings; a Condor’s wings are 9.5 feet. Majestic they are.

When the biologist at the cage was ready to release them, he radioed down and we all counted from 10 to 1, like they do at the Kennedy Space Center!

10-9-8-7-……We hit 1 and the gates flew open and 3 of the 4 condors blasted out while at the same time all these wild condors that had been hidden by the trees and rocks rose up to greet them and welcome them home. It made me weep it was so spectacular. Dozens of condors took to the air in a dance. Remember the captive condors have never flown like that, never known what it was like to land upon the earth. Sometimes they can be quite clumsy. Not so today. In synchrony the wild condors and the captive ones rose up all at once to dance in the sky. And once again the Earth welcomed these ancient birds to their rightful place in the sky.

The Navajos that were there said harmony was restored.

A missing piece of the web of life was filled in that day. The Song of the Earth now has one of its missing notes being sung once again. That night the full tonal scale floated across the land. The Animal Kingdom felt in its cells the restoration and balance of the cycle of life.

At the moment of release, I didn’t care that we as a society had spent millions of dollars to save one species. It mattered not. Only that they were returned to their ancestral homes and the niche was once again filled.

Upon returning home from the trip to that altered landscape, I had trouble sleeping. I hoped that when I was able to go to bed, that I dreamt of the magic and majesty of the great Condors. It was one of the most spectacular events I’ve witnessed in nature, and I am blessed to have seen more than most.

As a tribute to these magnificent birds, I quote here a piece from What Is Lightbody?


Invocation to Flight

I feel the tingling in my back.

I feel the weight in my shoulders.

I feel the spreading of my wings.

Preparing to fly,

I hear the call of the wind.

Rita Faruki