Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus)
Oftentimes when people think of vultures they think of an ugly, onimous bird, gloomily waiting around for the death of other creatures, a nightmarish bird. However, vultures play a vital role in our ecosystems and are certainly nothing to fear as they clean-up the landscape.
Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus), part of the vulture family, are the largest flying birds on the Earth. Originally they could be seen in the skies of Tierra del Fuego right along the South American Andes mountain range. Sadly, hunting led to a reduction in numbers and Andean Condors teetered on the brink of extinction. In 1973 the Andean Condor bird species was marked on the Endangered Species list. For many years South American’s have seen the powerful, huge Andean Condor as a symbol of health and strength. Villagers have sought the bones and organs of this fine creature for medicinal purposes and thus they were, and continue to be, subject to hunting. Habitat loss as well as air, water and food pollution have also led to a drastic reduction in the numbers of Andean Condors. Fortunately, though, various organizations have been involved in the conservation of this remarkable bird species, resulting in improved numbers of Andean Condors in certain localities.
As the world’s largest flying bird, the Andean Condor weighs between 9 and 12 kgs, or 20 to 30 pounds as an adult. Their impressive wingspan extends 10 feet or 3 meters assisting them to stay aloft for hours on rising air currents. Andean Condors are black, their wings are patched with white and they have a white ruff around the area of the neck. They have bare heads and the males are recognized by their fleshy comb. Wild Andean Condors can live to the age of 50 years, whilst captive birds have been known to live to about 75 years.
Condors mate for life, and their nests are carefully constructed on cliff ledges, with eggs are often being laid on bare rock. In fact, this is a great locality for a nest as it affords a measure of protection from potential predators. Andean Condors are slow breeders and mating typically takes place every second year in July depending on food availability. The courtship display involves unusual hissing and clucking noises accompanied by the male strutting with his wings out. Incubation of the single egg lasts 54 to 58 days. Both of the condors will care for the young one until its second year.
Andean Condors spend much of their day soaring on the updrafts of warm air currents. They forage over a vast area relying on their outstanding vision to spot their main food source – carrion. Once a meal has been spotted they will descend to feed with other carrion eaters such as the Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture and King Vulture. Interestingly Andean Condors have an eating hierarchy with males of all ages dominating. Their bald head is perfectly adapted for dining on carrion as the bird is able to reach right into the carcass without feathers becoming soiled. Andean Condors will also feed on bird eggs and newborn animals should it be necessary.
Andean Condors are a truly remarkable bird species worthy of conservation efforts and very important for the continued functioning of South American ecosystems.