Andean condor

The Andean condor is a South American bird from the family Cathartidae, the only branch in the genus Vultur. Found in the Andes mountains and adjacent Pacific coasts of South America. It is the largest flying bird in the world by the combined measurement of weight and wingspan. Its maximum wingspan is 3.3 m, exceeded only by the wingspan of four sea and water birds — albatrosses and pelicans.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Andean Condor

Photo: Andean Condor

The Andean condor was introduced by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 and has retained its original binomial name Vultur gryphus to this day. The generic term Vultur is taken directly from the Latin vultur, meaning “vulture”. Its specific epithet comes from a variant of the Greek word γρυπός (grupós, “hooked nose”).

Interesting fact: The exact taxonomic location of the Andean condor and the remaining six species of New World vultures remains unclear. Although the vultures of all continents are similar in appearance and have similar ecological roles, they still came from different ancestors in different parts of the world and do not have close ties. How different the two families are is now debated by scientists.

The Andean condor is the only recognized living species of its genus, Vultur. Compared to the Californian condor (G. californianus), which is known from numerous fossils and some additional relatives, Andean condor fossils are very scarce.

It is assumed that the early Pleistocene species of South American condors did not differ much from the current species. Although one extant specimen comes from only a few fairly small bones found in a Pliocene deposit in the department of Tarija, Bolivia, it may have been a smaller subspecies, V Gryphus Patruus.

Appearance and features

Photo: What the Andean Condor looks like

Photo: What the Andean Condor looks like

The plumage of Andean condors is black, shiny, with a white collar around the base of the necks. While juveniles have olive gray and brown plumage. These birds also have white feathers on the wings, and in males they are more pronounced. On the neck and head of adult condors, feathers are absent and, as a rule, they are black to dark reddish brown in color. The cubs in these places have a gray fluff, which subsequently disappears. This baldness is probably a hygiene adaptation, as bare skin is easier to keep clean and dry after feeding on carrion.

Video: Andean condor

The beak is used to tear rotting meat from the corpse. The bases of their upper and lower jaws are dark, and the rest of their bill is ivory. Andean condors weigh from 7.7 to 15 kg and have a length of 97.5 to 128 cm. The legs of Andean condors are much less powerful and with blunt short claws, unlike other birds of prey. The hind toe is less developed, but the middle toe is much longer than the others. Their feet and legs are covered with round, dark gray scales.

Fun Fact: Wingspan 3.2 m — this is the longest wingspan of any land bird.

Andean condors are the only species in the Cathartidae family that show extreme sexual dimorphism. Unlike many other birds of prey, male Andean condors are significantly larger than females. In addition, males have a large crest, which females do not have. The sex of birds also differs in eye color, males have brown pupils, while females have red ones. Both sexes have the ability to change the color of the exposed skin on the neck and face depending on their mood. This is used for communication between individuals and for displays during the mating season.

Now you know where the Andean condor lives. Let's see what it eats.

Where does the Andean condor live?

Photo: Andean condor bird

Photo: Andean condor bird

The condor is found in South America in the Andes, plus the Santa Marta Mountains. From the north, its range starts from Venezuela and Colombia, where the bird is extremely rare, then stretches south along the Andes of Ecuador + Peru + Chile, bypassing Bolivia and Argentina to Tierra del Fuego. In the 19th century, the Andean condor was found everywhere from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego, but the range was significantly reduced due to human activities.

Interesting fact: In the isolated network of mountain peaks in the Andes of Colombia and Ecuador, the number of birds is declining. Populations reach much higher densities in regions south of the northern Peruvian low, where they inhabit vast areas of high prairie, desert, and coastal areas.

Its habitat mainly consists of open grasslands and alpine zones up to 5,000 m. It prefers relatively open, unforested areas that allow it to see carrion from the air, such as paramo or rocky upland areas. Andean condors live and nest on rocks in small rock ledges or caves. They use thermal currents to take off and soar for hours effortlessly in search of food.

Occasionally the Andean condor is found in the lowlands of eastern Bolivia, northern Peru and southwestern Brazil, the bird descends into the desert lowlands of Chile + Peru and is found in the southern beech forests of Patagonia. In southern Patagonia, grasslands are important to Andean condors as herbivores may be present in this habitat. In this region, the range of Andean condors is influenced by the presence of grasslands, as well as rocks for nesting and roosting.

What does the Andean condor eat?

Photo: Great Andean Condor

Photo: Great Andean Condor

This vulture often cooperates for a mutually beneficial hunting relationship with turkey vultures and American black catharts, which search for prey by smell, while Andean condors detect food by sight. The large Andean condors are much better equipped to tear through the tough skin of a freshly killed or dead animal. Smaller vultures, on the other hand, benefit from the labor of the condor and feed on what is left of the newly found carcass.

Over the past century, there has been an ecological change in the availability of common foods of native species in much of the Andean condor's range. They are all being replaced by domesticated animals such as cows, horses, sheep, goats. As well as those that are used for sport hunting (rabbits, foxes, wild boars and deer).

The original food of the Andean condors included:

  • llamas;
  • alpacas;
  • nandu;
  • guanacos;
  • armadillos.

Now these prey species are being replaced by domestic animals. Andean condors also feed on the carcasses of whales and other large marine mammals in coastal areas. They are mainly scavengers, but sometimes prey on marmots, birds and rabbits, and sometimes raid the nests of small birds to eat eggs.

Andean condors lack well-developed hunting techniques, but they can stalk and grab live prey, in which case they begin to feed before the animal dies. Andean condors hold their prey by standing on it, as they lack the strong prehensile legs that most hunting predators have.

Interesting fact: Approaching a fresh carcass, Andean condors often begin to tear the animal near the anus and move towards the head. The first thing they eat is usually the liver, then the muscles. No significant attempt was made to open the skull and eat the brain.

In the northern parts of the range, Andean condors are experiencing a sharp decline in numbers associated with food problems. Andean condors often go without food for several days, then eat a large amount of food so much that they cannot take to the air. They occupy an important part of the ecosystem, eating carrion, which would otherwise become a breeding ground for diseases.

Character and Lifestyle Features

Photo: Andean condor in flight

Photo: Andean condor in flight in flight

These are monogamous birds that mate for life. They are active during the day. Both adults and juveniles, the birds live together on ledges and resting slabs, but do not breed there as other vultures do. Large numbers (over 196) of condors have been seen in public places in Patagonia and Argentina. The use of recreational areas increases in summer and autumn.

Social interactions at roosting sites exhibit dominance hierarchies, with males dominating females and adults dominating juveniles. This dominant behavior has led to a division of roosting sites, with birds higher in the hierarchy predominantly occupying the best sites with optimal sun exposure and wind protection.

Fun fact: Like many vultures New World, Andean condors have a habit of defecation on their feet, resulting in the bird constantly walking around with its feet covered in white uric acid deposits. Some scientists suggest that a cooling effect on the legs and feet is achieved in this way. However, this makes no sense in the bird's cold habitat in the Andes.

When the Andean condor takes off, its wings are held horizontally and its primary feathers are bent upwards at the ends. It flaps its wings as it rises from the ground, but after reaching a moderate level of height it very rarely continues to flap its wings, relying on thermal properties.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Andean Condor

Photo: Andean Condor

A pair of Andean condors can choose nest site, and then settle near it for two and a half months before mating begins. When the time for laying eggs begins to approach, the female begins to gradually sit closer to the ledge of the nest until she remains to spend the night inside it.

Before mating, the male begins spreading his wings and puffing out his neck. Its neck and crest become a bright grey-yellow color. He approaches the female with spread wings, an elongated and curved neck. The male makes small turns to the left and right as he heads towards the female, who may also spread her wings and mimic his behaviour. Courtship and mating are inextricably linked to the role of males as the dominant partner and the subordination of the female to him.

Interesting fact: The mating season varies geographically, but is usually from February to June. Andean condors are non-migratory birds, so seasonal patterns vary widely across the northern and southern reaches of their range. The breeding interval also likely varies depending on the quality of the habitat and the availability of food.

Most Andean condors do not build nests, but lay one egg on a bare ledge of a cliff. Some members of the species collect several sticks to scatter across the ledge. The eggs are bluish-white in color, weigh about 280 g and have a length of 7.6 to 10.1 cm. One egg is incubated for 54-58 days. Both parents care for the chicks until they fly away at 6 to 7 months of age. The chicks stay with their parents until they are 2 years old, when the pair will start breeding again. Sexual maturity occurs at 6-11 years of age.

Natural enemies of Andean condors

Photo: Andean Condor Bird

Photo: Andean Condor Bird

Healthy adult condors have no known natural predators. Young chicks can become victims of large birds of prey or foxes. Eggs can rarely be taken by predators, because. one of the parents is always in the nest. In addition, Andean condors nest on high inaccessible rock ledges, where they are protected from any attacks. But sometimes these birds nest in places more accessible for penetration by land. They are known to aggressively defend their nest against potential predators.

Primary Predators:

  • Foxes;
  • Birds of Prey.

Andean condors tend to feed on large dead animals, and sometimes prey on sick and injured fauna. Much of the native species in the Andean highlands has been replaced by domesticated species such as llamas, cows, horses, sheep and goats, which now make up the majority of the condor's diet. This has led some farmers and ranchers to view them as pests that plague their livestock.

Bird poisoning has been not uncommon over the last hundred years, but is now becoming less common due to increased public awareness and recognition of Andean condors as symbols of the region. In the ancient Inca culture of Peru, the condor represents one of the three realms of existence — heaven; while the jaguar represents the earth and the snake — underworld. These three cultural references appear throughout Inca society, including their architecture.

Population and Species Status

Photo: What it looks like Andean condor

Photo: What the Andean Condor looks like

This species has a relatively small global population, which is suspected to be declining quite rapidly due to human persecution. Hence, it is classified as critically endangered. It is threatened mainly in the northern part of its range, and very rarely in Venezuela and Colombia. Because the bird has a very low mortality but extremely low reproductive rates.

The species is very vulnerable in some parts of its range, as people persecute the bird due to attacks on livestock. An increase in tourism in parts of Chile and Argentina has led to a reduction in harassment, demonstrating the value of this species for ecotourism. Poisoning of mountain lions and foxes as a result may affect this species in some regions. In Argentina, condors are heavily dependent on exotic herbivore carcasses, which make up 98.5% of their diet, leaving them vulnerable to changes in animal husbandry. Interspecific competition for carcasses and the same areas can have a detrimental effect on the condor population.

Andean condors — one of the largest flying birds in the world. Their survival in their natural habitat is important for ecotourism. Andean condors are also frequently seen in zoos, being a popular show animal due to their status. They have been an important educational resource for zoos to gain experience in dealing with the problems of captive breeding of large condors.

Andean Condor Conservation

Photo: Andean Condor from the Red Book

Photo: Andean condor from the Red Book

The Andean condor is the national symbol of many countries in its range. The bird plays a significant role in the mythology and folklore of the Andean regions. The Andean condor is considered endangered and is listed in the Red Book as an endangered species. It is harmed by habitat loss and poisoning by poisoned animal carcasses. Captive breeding programs have been started in several countries.

Captive-bred reintroduction programs that release birds hatched in North American zoos into the wild to support local populations have been introduced in Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia. The first captive-bred Andean condor chick was released into the wild in 1989.

Fun fact: When condors are raised, human contact is minimal. The chicks are fed glove puppets, which are similar to the adult birds of the species, to prevent the chicks from becoming accustomed to humans, which could put them at risk of condors upon release, as they will not be wary of humans. Released condors are tracked by satellite to monitor their movements and see if they are alive.

The Andean condor is listed on Appendix I and Appendix II of CITES. Conservation activities for the Andean condor consist of a population census based on the use of photographs/videos to identify individual birds at feeding grounds. Studying large-scale bird movements and the potential impact of condors on livestock production. As well as the conduct of explanatory dialogues with farmers in order to reduce the persecution of these birds.

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