Everything You Wanted to Know About the Andean Condor
One of the largest flying birds in the world is the Andean Condor. They are the largest raptors in the world and as their name would imply they make their home in the Andes Mountains of South America. Closely related to the California Condor of the western United States, the Andean Condor is part of the family of New World vultures that includes five vulture species and two condor species (Andean and California) found in North and South America.
What makes the Andean Condor so impressive and unique is clearly its massive size. At upwards of 33 pounds this bird had better have a large wingspan to get themselves into the air. In this respect they do not disappoint as their 9 to 11 foot wingspan is among the largest of any flying bird in the world. Only a few species of the Albatross and the Great White Pelican can boast of a larger wingspan.
Unlike many other birds of prey where the female is larger than the male that is not the case with the Andean Condor. Males weigh on average about 25 to 33 pounds while females weigh in at 18 to 24 pounds. Their length is also quite impressive and ranges from about three feet to over four feet. When taking into consideration the weight and wingspan of the Andean Condor they are on average the largest flying land bird in the world.
The Andean Condor has a rather simple color scheme and they are for the most part black. They have white patches on their wings, which is more prevalent in males, and a white collar of fine feathers around the base of their necks. Like other vultures the Andean Condor’s neck and head are bald, which does serve a purpose, and they appear to be a dark reddish-black in color.
The appearance of the male differs from the female in that they have a very distinctive comb on their head. Males also have yellow eyes while females have red eyes. This difference in appearance between the females and males is known as sexual dimorphism and the Andean Condor is the only New World vulture to show this trait.
Their baldness appears to be a unique adaptation of bird hygiene, which is related to the fact that when they feed they are sticking their heads into rotting carcasses. These birds are a clean bunch despite their reputation and feeding habits and they are meticulous about keeping their heads clean, which is much easier to do without feathers on it.
Habitat and Range
Andean Condors are found only in South America from Venezuela and Colombia in the north all the way to Tierra del Fuego in the south. They are generally found in the mountains of the Andes, but can also occasionally be found in the desert lowlands and along the coast.
Their preferred habitat is an alpine area of open grassland and they can be found at elevations of up to 16,000 feet. Areas with little forest help the Andean Condor to spot food from the air as they ride the thermal currents in search of their next meal. These thermals are an important part of the Condors habitat as their heavy weight would make it difficult to stay aloft for very long without some help. By gliding over large areas from thermal to thermal they save valuable energy and can stay at an impressive altitude for hours with barely a flap of their wings.
The Andean Condor feeds mainly on carrion and like other vultures is a scavenger. They will feed on a variety of dead animals including deer, alpacas, llamas, sheep, cattle and goats. While they prefer these larger carcasses they will also feed on smaller animals such as rabbits, wild boars and fox.
For those condors that live in the coastal areas of South America the diet is somewhat different and consists of beached marine mammals such as whales, seals, and dolphins. They will also take to raiding the nest of smaller coastal birds for their eggs if the opportunity arises.
While they are predominantly scavengers, the Andean Condor will sometimes resort to hunting live animals such as rabbits, rodents and other birds. Because they lack the large powerful talons of other raptors they use their bill to kill their prey. Also, without the ability to grasp and carry its prey they must feed while they are on the ground. This is one reason why the condor will gorge itself while eating as it does not have the ability to carry its prey away.
While their methods may seem somewhat disgusting the Andean Condor and other vultures perform a valuable service to mankind. They consume a great deal of carrion that would otherwise become a breeding ground for bacteria and disease. In this way they help to keep their range clean and disease free.
The Andean Condor does not reach its sexual maturity until it is five to six years old. After a rather impressive courtship display that involves hissing and dancing a pair will mate for life and will nest in an area that is generally inaccessible so as to provide protection for the eggs.
Condors do not build a nest so to speak, but rather will place a few sticks around the eggs to help protect them. The nesting area will usually be on a rocky ledge and they prefer to nest at elevations of over 9,000 feet. The female will lay one to two eggs in February to March and both parents will help in the incubation period, which lasts up to 58 days. It will take up to six months for the young condor to fly and they will continue to hunt and roost with their parents until they approach two years of age. Because of this long learning period the Andean Condor will only breed every other year.
Because they have no known predators the Andean Condor is quite capable of living for 50 years in the wild. In captivity they have been known to live to over 70 years and an Andean Condor born in captivity in Connecticut in 1930 actually owns the Guinness world record for the longest lived bird of any species having lived for 80 years.
Juvenile Andean Condor
The Andean Condor is currently listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Once again, humans are the biggest threat to the species and loss of habitat, outright killing by farmers, and secondary poisoning are the biggest factors keeping this beautiful condor from recovering.
The Andean Condors low reproductive rate is also a contributing factor to its long term success and captive breeding programs have been in place since 1989 to bolster the breeding process. With help from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which had extensive experience with the California Condor, a release and capture program with the Andean condor was successfully preformed here in the United States with the birds then being re-released in their native South America. Since then captive-bred Condors have been reintroduced in Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina. Educational programs have also been implemented across the Andean Condors range in South America to help dispel the misconception that these birds are a threat to farmers.
The latest data on the Andean Condor suggests that there are perhaps a few thousand of the birds left across South America. It appears that the education and reintroduction programs are starting to have a positive effect on their numbers and one can only hope that this trend continues. The Andean condor is certainly in a much better situation than its cousin to the north, the California condor, but they are by no means out of the woods just yet.
- The Andean Condor has the largest wing area of any bird.
- The Andean Condor can change the color of its head depending on its mood.
- The Andean Condor does not have a voice box so the only noise they can make is a hissing or grunting sound.
- The Andean Condor is the national symbol of Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Columbia and Bolivia.
- They are the national bird of Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Columbia.
- The Andean Condor is considered to be the garbage collector of nature.
- The Andean Condor can soar to an elevation of 18,000 feet.
- If the Andean Condor loses its egg(s) they have the ability to immediately lay another one. In captivity zoo keepers will remove the Condor’s eggs and artificially incubate them, which results in the Condor laying more eggs. This strategy is helping to bolster the captive-breeding programs.
- Because the Andean Condor must eat while on the ground, they will often gorge themselves to the point where they are unable to get themselves off the ground and into the air.
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- Birds of Prey - The Verreaux's Eagle
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© 2013 Bill De Giulio