Bird-watching is the most popular wildlife activity in the US, and little wonder – all the hemisphere’s migratory songbirds and shorebirds rest here at some point, and America consequently claims some 800 avian species. If you need help finding and identifying them, the Sibley Field Guides are an indispensable resource, as is the National Audubon Society (www.audubon.org).
The bald eagle was adopted as the nation’s symbol in 1782. It’s the only eagle unique to North America, and half a million once ruled the continent’s skies. By 1963, habitat destruction and, in particular, poisoning from DDT had caused the population to plummet to 417 breeding pairs in the lower 48. However, by 2007, bald eagles had recovered so well, increasing to around 9700 breeding pairs across the continent (plus about 50,000 in Alaska), that they’ve been removed from the endangered species list.
Perhaps the only bird more impressive is the California condor, a prehistoric, carrion-eating bird that weighs 25lb and has a wingspan over 9ft. Condors were virtually extinct by the 1980s (reduced to six birds in captivity), but they have been successfully bred and reintroduced in California and northern Arizona, where they are sometimes spotted soaring above the Grand Canyon.