Family: Cathartidae. (New World vulture).
Scientific Name: Vultur gryphus.
Common Names: Andean Condor.
Conservation Status: Endangered. Things are starting to look up for this species as it has started doing relatively well both in the wild and in captivity. It was slaughtered mainly due to the worry farmers had that it endangered their stock, though some people were simply feather collectors as the Andean Condor's quills are much valued by harpsichord makers or as cigarette holders. On the other hand, the Andean Condor was always in a better position than its close cousin the California Condor. This is because there are far fewer people living in its geographical range and the farmers tend only to round up cattle once a year. Without care, cattle easily die all year round, providing a constant food source.
Andean Condor Chick (Photograph Courtesy of Ralf Schmode Copyright ©2000)
Rescue & Recovery: In many parts of its native range the Andean Condor is extremely rare, or has already become extinct. Protection is essential for this great bird, however protective legislation in South America is worth very little and there is no reason to expect it would have any impact at all.
Geographical Range: South America from Venezuela (where it was rediscovered in 1977) to Columbia. Predominantly the eternal snows of the Andes. Descends to sea level along the wildest coastlines.
Habitat: Coastal cliffs, or the highest and least accessible parts of mountains. Commonly found at altitudes of up to 7,000 metres.
Physical Characteristics: Vies with the California Condor for the title of largest bird of prey. They reach a length of 101-116 centimetres and a male may weigh as much as 12 kgs, having a wingspan of three metres wide. Very long-lived with one in captivity attaining the age of approximately 77-years-old. This bird lived outdoors at Moscow Zoo from 1892 to 1964 and was probably already at least five or six years-old at the time it was caught. Adults are dark grey, almost black, with the exception of white markings across the wings. The bare skin on the head and neck is pinkish; the colouration being caused by haemoglobin, the iron-rich compound found in blood cells. Directly below the neck is a collar of white feathers which is narrower in the female. The male has a caruncle (fleshy crest) on the top of head and lobe-shaped wattles appear on the side of the face. Eye colour varies with males having a light brown colouration and females being reddish-brown. Male birds grow larger than females and both sexes are all but voiceless, with their full repertoire consisting of a few wheezes and grunts. In immature birds, the plumage is a uniform brown.
Male Andean Condor
Food: Carrion. Sometimes attacks and kills wounded animals, but these are already well on their way to death. It is not a fighter and have relatively weak claws, though the beak is very strong enabling the Andean Condor to feed from the toughest carcasses. A careful social hierarchy is observed while the birds feed and it is very rare for serious fights to ensue in the bid to establish dominance. Peruvian birds may migrate to the coast from December to January to feed on dead sea lions. Condors which normally reside near coasts raid the colonies of seabirds, eating both eggs and chicks. An Andean Condor with a fully gorged crop has probably ingested up to 1.4 kilograms of meat. Their main diet is probably made up of native animals like the llama, seabirds and fur seals, now coupled with the spoils of ranching in the form of horses and cattle.
Reproduction: Without human intervention, this bird is a slow starter, not beginning to breed until they are six or seven years old. When it comes to a food supply these birds lead a fairly meagre existence and very few pairs breed in these conditions. Approximately every five years storms come about as a result of El Niño; this creates devastation which substantially increases the food supply of these birds, and causes the numbers of breeding pairs to raise substantially. A year after the 1982-83 El Niño the cliffs and ledges were packed with year-old birds. In between the storms few are to be found. This leaves the Andean Condor very susceptible if many years pass without any sign of big storms to kill wildlife and farm animals.
Condor In Flight (Photograph Courtesy of Cliff Buckton Copyright ©2000)
Andean Condors are highly secretive while nesting, but nest at heights ranging from sea level to over 4,000 metres. They lay a solitary white egg in on the bare ground of a rock cavity, often exposed to wind and bad weather. Incubation time is 54-58 days (shared incubation, with the male relieving the female for a few hours each day). The young are covered with a pale grey down, later succeeded by a slightly darker grey. Male chicks already have the fleshy crest on their head at birth. Birds start to fly at around six months of age. Chicks continue to be tended until they reach their second year and the long period of care means that in the wild a pair only produce an average of one egg every two years. Andean Condors in captivity are encouraged to multiply by removing the eggs. Chicks are then hand-raised and the birds may nest several times in a season.
Other: Many South American states have adopted this bird as a symbol of liberty.
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