The Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is a New World vulture.
It is found in South America in the Andes.
In the north, its range begins in Venezuela and Colombia, where it is extremely rare, then continues south along the Andes in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, through Bolivia and western Argentina to the Tierra del Fuego.
Its habitat is mainly composed of open grasslands and alpine areas up to 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) in elevation.
It prefers areas with wide open spaces which aid in their detection of food.
The Andean condor is one of the world’s longest-living birds, with a lifespan of around 50 years in the wild. In January of 2010 a wild-born, captive condor died at nearly 80 years old at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport Connecticut.
The Andean condor is the largest flying bird in South America.
It is also is the largest living land bird capable of flight if measured in terms of average weight and wingspan.
Overall length can range from 100 to 130 cm (3 ft 3 in to 4 ft 3 in) and wingspan from 270 to 320 cm (8 ft 10 in to 10 ft 6 in).
Their weight can range from 11 to 15 kg (24 to 33 lb) for males and 8 to 11 kg (18 to 24 lb) for females.
Andean condors have dark feathers in maturity (while juveniles are olive-grey and brown), with a white collar or downy plumage around the base of their necks. They also have white flight feathers on their wings as adults, with those of the male being more pronounced. When extended, the wing tips have gaps between the primaries which is an adaptation for soaring.
The head and neck of adult condors are bare of feathers and are generally black to dark reddish brown, while juveniles have much darker skin and young hatchlings have fluffy grey down on their bodies. This baldness is presumably a hygienic adaptation, as the bare skin is easier to keep clean and dry after feeding on carrion.
In the male, there is a wattle on the neck and a large, dark red comb or caruncle on the crown of the head. Sexes also differ in eye color as well, with males having brown irises and females having red.
The beak is hooked at the end and functions in tearing rotting meat off a corpse. The bases of their upper and lower mandibles are dark with the rest of the beak being ivory colored.
The feet of Andean condors are much less powerful with shorter blunted talons compared to those of other birds of prey. This adaption is well suited for a lifestyle of walking and scavenging.
Andean condors are vultures. Like all vultures, they are carrion feeders, not predators.
Andean condors are active during the day and spend most of their time soaring.
They prefer to roost on high places from where they can launch without major wing-flapping effort.
Andean condors are often seen soaring near rock cliffs, using the heat thermals to aid them in rising in the air.
High flyers, Andean condors soar to heights of 5,500 meters (18,000 feet).
Andean condors maintain a large home range, often traveling 200 kilometers (120 miles) a day in search of carrion.
Their excellent eyesight allows them to seek out dead or dying animals while hovering high in the sky.
Naturally, they feed on the largest carcasses available, which can include llamas, alpacas, rheas, guanacos, deer and armadillos. However, most inland condors now live largely off of domestic animals, which are now more widespread in South America, such as cattle, horses, donkeys, mules, sheep, pigs, goats and dogs. They also feed on the carcasses of introduced game species such as wild boars, rabbits, foxes and red deer. For condors who live around the coast, the diet consists mainly of beached carcasses of marine mammals, largely cetaceans.
Andean condors are primarily scavengers but have been observed to do some hunting of rodents, birds and rabbits.
There is a well-developed social structure within large groups of condors, with competition to determine a ‘pecking order’ by body language, competitive play behavior, and vocalizations. Generally, mature males tend to be at the top of the pecking order, with post-dispersal immature males tending to be near the bottom.
Andean condors don’t have a true voice box or syrinx like other birds, but they can make crude, primitive vocalizations, such as grunt, wheeze, or hiss.
Andean condors have the ability to change the color of the bare skin on their neck and face in association with mood.
During courtship displays, the skin of the male’s neck and face flushes, changing from dull red to bright yellow, and inflates. Other courtship rituals include hissing and clucking while hopping with wings partially spread, and dancing.
The Andean condor prefers to roost and breed at elevations of 3,000 to 5,000 meters (9,800 to 16,400 feet). Its nest, which consists of a few sticks placed around the eggs, is created on inaccessible ledges of rock. Eggs are bluish-white in color, weigh about 280 g. The egg hatches after 54 to 58 days of incubation by both parents. If the chick or egg is lost or removed, another egg is laid to take its place. Researchers and breeders take advantage of this behavior to double the reproductive rate by taking the first egg away for hand-rearing, causing the parents to lay a second egg.
Once the chick hatches, both parents are responsible for its care for over a year, well after the chick has fledged at six months. They continue to roost and hunt with their parents until age two, when they are displaced by a new clutch.
Healthy adults have no natural predators, but large birds of prey and mammalian predators, like foxes, may take eggs or hatchlings.
Andean condors are listed as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List as they have faced significant population declines in recent years. Threats to Andean condors include habitat loss, lead ammunition ingestion, and persecution by farmers. Even after captive breeding and reintroduction programs, the slow reproduction rate (once every 2 to 3 years) of these birds is slowing population recovery.
The Andean condor is a national symbol of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuelan Andes states.
It is the national bird of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador.
The Andean condor plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the South American Andean regions, and has been represented in Andean art from c. 2500 BC onward, and they are a part of indigenous Andean religions.
In Andean mythology, the Andean condor was associated with the sun deity, and was believed to be the ruler of the upper world.
The Andean condor was the symbol of nobility and strength for South America’s Inca, Chibcha, and Arawak cultures.
Some Andean cultures believed that the bones and organs of the Andean condor possessed medicinal powers, sometimes leading to the hunting and killing of condors to obtain its bones and organs.
The Andean condor is a popular figure on stamps in many countries, appearing on one for Ecuador in 1958, Argentina in 1960, Peru in 1973, Bolivia in 1985, Colombia in 1992, Chile in 2001, and Venezuela in 2004. It has also appeared on the coins and banknotes of Colombia and Chile. The condor is featured in several coats of arms of Andean countries as a symbol of Andes mountains.