The Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is the biggest vulture in South America. Like most other vultures, Andean condor is also a scavenger feeding primarily on carrion. They are thought to fly as high as 18,000 feet and are able to spot animal from that height. Unlike any other bird, Andean condor has got the largest wing area covering 6.5 sq. ft. In air, they are like big black kites soaring at an altitude of thousands of feet.
Andean Condor Facts
- Andean condor has got one of the largest wingspans measuring up to 270 to 320 cm (8 ft 10 in to 10 ft 6 in).
- Male condors are comparatively heavier than the females. The average weight of males is 11 to 15 kg (24 to 33 lb) while females weigh up to 8 to 11 kg (18 to 24 lb).
- The total length of Andean condors is 100 to 130 cm (3 ft 3 in to 4 ft 3 in).
- Condor’s wings cover wide area which allows it to fly several miles without beating their wings. It just sails over its range.
- Female condors are slightly different from the male.
- They have got tough bill which is hooked at the end and is perfectly adapted to tearing off flesh.
- Andean condor’s plumage is uniformly black with greyish neck and head. It is the largest extant land bird.
- They have keen eyesight and the ability to spot an animal from thousands-feet height is truly amazing.
- Andean condors typically occur in South America where it is mainly found in the Andes Mountains and Santa Marta Mountains. The isolated population occupies the northern range including Venezuela and Columbia. Here they are present in limited numbers.
- In the south, condors are likely to breed in Chile, Ecuador, Tierra del Fuego, and the western Argentina south of Rio Negro.
- They make homes in open habitats such as alpine areas, open grasslands, and non-forested areas which are 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in elevation. While flying in open areas, condors are able to spot carrion from the air on rocky mountainous regions.
- Sometimes they are thought to fly in lowlands in southwestern Brazil and eastern Bolivia.
Feeding Ecology, Diet and Behavior
- Andean condors fancy roosting in high places because it takes no real energy to glide from the height.
- Andean condors are scavengers and they feed mainly on carrion. Condors are remarkable travellers. They may travel as much as 200 kilometers a day to find carrion.
- They will roost on top of the cliff where it could take advantage of fast air currents. These currents help the heavy bird to lift its weight while flying.
- While flight, condors enjoy absorbing heat from the land. Therefore they launch just flight when the currents are warm.
- Andean condors are not really social. They will use the same nesting site over and over again.
- They are thought to feed on carcasses of large-size mammals such as deer, llamas, donkeys, and armadillos. In South America condors rely on domestic mammals such as donkey, pig, sheep, goats, and horses.
- Andean condor’s diet also consists of wild boars, red deer, foxes, and rabbits.
- They may eat eggs of other small birds along with rodents, rabbits, and birds.
- Condors may eat up to 15 pounds of flesh in a single sitting but they may not be able to take off immediately.
- In the breeding season, Andean condors show courtship behavior. Male changes it neck color from dull red to bright yellow.
- The breeding season ranges from February to March. Condors reach maturity at 6 – 8 years of age.
- A female lays 1 – 2 bluish-white eggs in ledges of rock or in a nest which is surrounded by some sticks.
- Condor’s eggs average 280 g (9.9 oz) in weight with the length measuring up to 75 to 100 mm (3.0 to 3.9 in).
- Eggs hatch in about 8 – 9 weeks. Both parents incubate the eggs. Young will fledge in 180 days but they remain with parents for several months until they become fully independent.
- The average lifespan of Andean condors is 52 years in the wild. However in captivity they may live as long as 70 years. One such captive bird died in 2010 at the age of almost 80 years. It was named Thaao. Thaao was born in 1930.
- In the wild, Andean condors have no natural predators but foxes may eat condor’s eggs.