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Birds of Prey: The Andean Condor

Updated on March 12, 2017

Andean Condor

Male Andean Condor
Male Andean Condor | Source

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.

Description

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.

Source

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.

Male Andean Condor

Male Andean Condor
Male Andean Condor | Source

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.

Female Andean Condor

Female Andean Condor
Female Andean Condor | Source

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.

Range

Source

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.

Andes Mountains

The Andes Mountains of Bolivia.
The Andes Mountains of Bolivia. | Source

Diet

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.

Andean Condor
Andean Condor | Source

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.

Andean Condor
Andean Condor | Source

Reproduction

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

Juvenile Andean Condor
Juvenile Andean Condor | Source

Status

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.

Interesting facts:

  • 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.

A markerAndes Mountains, South America -
Cordillera de los Andes
get directions

© 2013 Bill De Giulio

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    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi there Learn Things Web. Thanks so much for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed a look at the Andean Condor. Have a great day.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi rajan. They are amazing, and very, very large also. I hope enough is being done to insure their long-term survival. Thanks so much for the vote, share, pin, tweet, etc... Have a great day.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 3 years ago from California

      This is a fascinating and very well written hub.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      The Andean Condor is a magnificent bird, no doubt. It is heartening to know that efforts are being made to save this endangered bird.

      Voted up, useful, interesting, shared and pinned. Tweeted and shared on fb too.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Jared. Thank you. I'm trying to steadily, albeit slowly, build the library on the Birds of Prey series. The really enjoyed writing about the Andean Condor, certainly an amazing species.

      Thanks so much for the vote, share, etc. Have a great day.

    • Jared Miles profile image

      Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

      Congrats on another birds of prey article Bill, you're building up a fair few now! I enjoyed the accompanying video too, I think the condor looks very graceful during flight. Thanks for an educational read and some beautiful pictures, voted up and shared.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Glimmer Twin. I've had a similar stretch here this summer, maybe it's the heat here in the northeast. The summer is going by much too quickly. Hope you are having a great one also.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 3 years ago

      Been out of touch for a couple of weeks, a writing slump of sorts, but back now and catching up on all of my reading. Love this guy's beak and would really love to see one of these condors fly. Thanks for sharing this interesting info Bill. Hope you are having a good summer.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suhail. Thank you for visiting and commenting. You are correct about the vulture. They appear wobbly in flight because they are relatively light in weight and yet have a large wingspan. As such they are very susceptible to the strong upper wind currents and they get blown around a bit, hence the wobbly appearance. Perhaps I will write on hub on this, thank you for the suggestion.

      Btw, I did realize that you simply miss-typed, happens to all of us so please don't worry about it. Thanks again.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      My children and I were trying to find out difference between flight of a turkey vulture and eagles and hawks while visiting Shenandoah National Park. We found that vultures are quite wobbly in their flights as compared to stable flight of the eagles and hawks.

      The flight patterns of different birds of prey are something you would like to write on some day.

      Btw, via your response, I noticed that I had incorrectly used the word 'pray' instead of 'prey'. My apologies if someone thought I am ridiculing religious people. (wink wink).

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi there Suhail. Thanks for stopping by. I do the same thing when we travel and I'm always looking for birds of prey in the sky. I would love to see the Andean Condor in the wild, perhaps some day? Thanks for the visit, have a great day.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      I love birds of pray. Wherever I travel in the USA and Canada, my family members and I are searching the skies for any bird of pray out there. It doesn't matter what it is, if it is there, it's a proof that the environment is healthy for them to be there.

      When I go up to Andes, I will definitely go look for them.

      In the meantime, I will visit a zoo or two and following the advice of fellow hubber sgbrown in her hub 'How to Take Better Pictures at the Zoo', I will try to get some shots.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suzie. Yeah, somehow these birds of prey have morphed into a nice little niche for me. I love researching these amazing creatures that many of us may not be familiar with. The Andean Condor is particularly interesting with its size and unique traits. Hopefully someday I can say that i write full-time. Until then I'll just keep plugging away. Thanks as always for the great support. Have a great day.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi CMHypno. Thank you for stopping by to read about the Andean Condor. They are an amazing creature. Hard to believe that their wingspan can reach up to 11 feet across, wow.

    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Alicia. Thank you. After writing about the California Condor I just had to write a hub on their cousin, the Andean Condor. What a beautiful and very big bird. Thank so much for the share, have a great day.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Bill,

      Beautiful article as they all are in this series! What an interesting bird and so big! Your picture choices work so well and are stunning. I have never heard of a bird having the ability to change its color head! Full of great information as always, votes, shares and pinned, great job and I concur with Bill, this is an awesome niche for you which is really your own and a great starting point for your full time writing!!!

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 3 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Thanks for all the great information about Andean Condors. What fascinating birds! It must be a wonderful sight to watch them hovering in the sky.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a lovely hub about a beautiful bird, Bill. The facts that you've shared are very informative and interesting! As always, the photos and videos are great. I'll share this hub.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thank you tirelesstraveler. The Andean Condor played an important role in the ancient Aztec culture. They really are a majestic and beautiful bird. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 3 years ago from California

      Just finished reading a book about the first bilingual schools in Peru. In those days birds were central to the culture of the Andes. Beautiful article.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Mary. We are all in the same boat here, building our libraries with our niches for the future. I appreciate your support and encouragement. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and thanks for the vote, etc....

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      Amazing article Bill. You never, ever disappoint. This was very interesting and like Joe I had no idea these birds ever hunt. He may be an ugly bird but he makes for interesting reading.

      You certainly are racking up the great articles...interesting, informative and everything a nature/bird article should be.

      I know these are all stepping stones on your way to success.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Oswalda. Thank you for stopping by. It is very sad what is happening to the black rhino in Africa and to many other African species. Certainly more needs to be done to stop the poaching. Have a great day.

    • Oswalda Purcell profile image

      Oswalda Purcell 3 years ago from Los Angeles

      I'm glad to read conservation efforts are in place. I wish we could have done something to save Africa's black rhino :(

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Joe. Thank you. I try to select an interesting bird that many of us may not be familiar with. It educates me and hopefully the readers also. These two condors, the Andean and the Californian, are simply amazing creatures. Not only are they majestic in flight but they serve a useful purpose in disposing of carrion. Thanks so much for the vote, share, etc.. Have a great weekend. Ciao :)

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. That's part of the plan, to keep building my niches. We are slowly getting there. By time I give up my day job hopefully I'll have hundreds of articles. Many thanks as always for the support and encouragement. Have a great weekend.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Bill, these birds, along with their close cousins, serve a good purpose in the ecology...they dispose of carrion that, left unattended, might very well be the source of food and/or water poisoning for other wild creatures or man himself. I was surprised to learn from your article that they actually do hunt on occasion. Another thing I learned about in this article was the very practical reason for their bald heads. Great article, my friend, and stock full of compelling information! Voted UAI and shared! Aloha!

      Joe

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Another great niche article of yours, Bill. Keep building your portfolio so when the day comes when you can write full time you will have the foundation completely built. Well done, buddy!

      Have a great weekend!

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