|Population||10,000 (2012 est.)|
|Conservation status||Near threatened|
The Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is a large New World vulture native to the coastal areas and mountains of western South America.
Andean condors are approximately 43-52 inches in length and have a wingspan of up to 11 feet. With a body weight of up to 33 pounds they are among the largest living flying birds. Unusual for birds of prey, females are slightly smaller than males.
The basic plumage is glossy black, with light-gray to whitish colored wing feathers (excluding the primaries), and a white ruffle of feathers around the neck. The head is largely naked and reddish-grey in color. Veins in the head allow for a color saturation that can intensify the red hues in case of great excitement. The horn-colored beak is comparatively small and is covered by a flesh-colored waxy skin up to the center of the beak. The stout feet are feathered to above the intertarsal joint; below they are grey-brown in color, but are often whitish as a result of excrement sprayed onto them, a method of cooling them.
Differences between males and females is not particularly pronounced. Male Andean condors can be up to 25% larger as well as significantly heavier than females. The most noticeable difference in sex is a fleshy, slightly erectile comb of the males, which extends like a cap from the top of the head between the eyes to the center of the beak, as well as a wrinkled throat beneath the beak.
Young birds do not wear the adult plumage until about 6th - 8th year. Juveniles are grey-brown in color, with the neck ruff just slightly brighter than the basic plumage. The still-feathered head is dark brownish, eyes and beak dark brown. The white wing patches show up from the second year of life and become increasingly clear, while juvenile males will gain rudiments of the comb. At the age of four eye and beak colors change, comb and throat bag of the males are more fully formed. The iris of the eyes of adult birds is brown in males, red in females. By the sixth year of life the basic plumage largely resembles the adult Andean condor, but the head color is often still dark and the neck ring is a reddish-orange.
Andean condors are found from central Peru south to Tierra del Fuego, and mainly along the Andes Mountains; north or Peru they are sometimes found in scattered locations in Ecuador and Colombia, and possibly made up of birds released from captivity. In southern Patagonia, they have spread as far east as the Atlantic coast. The species overall is not common but generally widespread.
Habitat and diet
Andean condors inhabit the coastal plains up into the high mountain areas of the Andes; they prefer searching for food to scavenge within grasslands, deserts, beaches, or scrub forests in which the trees are few and sparse; deeply-forested areas are rarely visited.
Carrion is the main food the birds consume, and they will fly great distances to find it. They feed generally on large dead mammals, from llamas and alpacas in the mountains to whales, dolphins, and seals on the beaches. Although primarily a scavenger, it has been seen on occasion to hunt small animals, which it kills by repeated pecking with its bill.
There are no detailed investigations of reproduction, mortality, or population have been made about this bird. Historical data on the distribution of the species are also largely lacking, but it is assumed that soon after the beginning of the Spanish arrival their population density decreased considerably, at least in the centers of immigration. As a result of livestock farming and the growing human population the condor has increasingly been forced into remote mountainous regions. The main reason for this was hunting, poisoning and catching with traps, based on the belief that the Andean condor would kill livestock. In the second half of the 19th century guano production was intensified in many parts of the Pacific coasts of Peru and Chile; this additional human activity caused a disruption in the seal and seabird populations, both of which provided the carrion and young birds that the condors fed on. The condor has also been hunted by the indigenous population, as many of its body parts and bones are regarded as medicines or for ritual purposes.
Condor hunting, poisoning and trapping is still regional, albeit to a far lesser degree. Poison baits designed to kill pumas or foxes will in turn poison the condors eating the carcasses. There are also numerous disturbances in the breeding ground by increased trek and boat tourism. On the other hand there is a positive awareness of environmental issues in many places, which initiates regional protective measures, training programs and the education of the population, with the value of the condor as a tourist attraction being increasingly recognized. The reintroduction programs, which run in some states, can support residual populations to the extent that they do not entirely go extinct; so far they seem to have had only lasting success in Colombia.
- Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) pg 314
- Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) pg 315
- Sergio A. Lambertucci und Karina L. Speziale (2009): "Some possible anthropogenic threats to breeding Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus)", in J. Raptor Res. 43(3):245–249.
- James Ferguson-Lees, and Christie, David A.: Raptors of the World; Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 2001