This handsome fellow is the Californian Condor. Once found through the western USA, his numbers fell into steady decline due to poaching, lead poisoning and habitat destruction - so much so that in 1987 the government captured all the living birds and put them into a breeding program. There were 22 wild condors remaining at that time. There are now over 400. As the population in captivity grew, birds were re-relased along the Californian coast and also into previous haunts - such as Utah and Arizona. The release site there is known as the Vermillion cliffs. He has the largest wingspan of any "land" bird in the USA, up to 3 metres. The Californian Condor is a pure scavenger - his talons are not strong enough to capture and kill prey, and he likes his food rancid. This puts him at risk from lead poisoning if he consumes animals that have died of gunshot wounds. His naked head is an adaptation to his diet - with no feathers on his head he can stick it all the way into a juicy carcass to gobble up the tasty organs, without his feathers getting all nasty and clogged with blood. Birds cannot, after all, groom their own heads. Other awesomely-gross adaptations include the regulating of temperature by urinating on his feet - allowing him to go from the high, cool air to the depths of hot desert canyons without ill effect and also, if threatened, he will vomit up the noxious contents of his stomach. What a delightful beastie.
Here's the Vermillion cliffs, where we didn't see a condor:
My gods, the Painted Desert is beautiful. I do not think I have ever said "WOW" to the scenary as much as I did, this trip.