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Condor, Andean

Andean Condor (Photo Credit: Tad Motoyama)

Scientific Name: Vultur gryphus

With a wingspan of ten feet, the Andean condor is one of the world’s largest flying birds.

Vultures, with their large wingspans, are masters of the air currents and heat thermals in the air. They can soar for hours looking for carrion on the ground.

Cultural Importance

The Andean condor plays a very big role in the culture of its native habitats. It is the national symbol of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. The condor is also considered sacred by many native tribes found in these countries, and is a symbol for themes such as spirit and rebirth.

Condors nest on cliffs and lay a single egg every other year. Both parents will incubate (sit on) the egg, which will hatch after approximately 56 days. The chick will take its first flight (called fledging) when it is about six months old, and the parents will continue to care for and feed it until it is two years old. Condors do not mate until they are 8 to 10 years old.

Andean condors are considered Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Captive breeding programs (similar to the program for California condors at the Los Angeles Zoo) have been put into place, with relative success at releasing captive born birds back into the wild.

Andean condors live high in the Andes Mountains of South America from Venezuela and Columbia south to Patagonia (the southern region of Argentina) and west to the coast of Peru and southward. They prefer open grasslands, lowland deserts and coastal areas. Favorite roosts are rocky cliffs, where they can launch into the air without having to do much wing flapping.

Like all vultures, Andean condors feed on carrion, although they also eat eggs and will occasionally attack wounded and newborn mammals, such as goats or llamas. Condors are quite picky, sometimes going up to five days without a meal.

The condor’s feathers (plumage) are a glossy black. The flight feathers (coverts or top wing feathers) are a pale ivory gray and have a black band through the middle of the coverts. Their heads are gray and bare, and they have a ruff (collar) of white down around their necks. Unlike most birds of prey, Andean condor males are distinct from females in appearance, due to a large comb and wattle on their heads (between the eyes from the beak to the top of the head).  The females are also smaller than the males. Since they are carrion eaters, their feet are not as strong and their talons are not as sharp as other birds of prey because they don’t need to use them to kill or grasp food. Condors have no voices! They do make some sounds to communicate with others, though, such as hissing and grunting.

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