Status: Near threatened
Known as: Andean Condor
Estimated numbers left in wild: Several thousand; no accurate figures are available
The Andean condor is classified as a raptor, a bird of prey, and as such, is the largest of this type in the world. This is a very large and heavy bird, with a wingspan up to 320 centimetres and a beak to tail length between 100 centimetres and 130 centimetres. These birds can weigh 15 kilograms. Not only are the male birds larger than the females, but they are also distinguished by their wattles and comb. Both sexes sport a fluffy white collar, while the predominant body colour is black with white secondary wing feathers. This condor has a long lifespan, 50 years or more.
Diet: Andean condors are scavengers, meaning that they feed mostly on dead animals, although they have been known to take sea birds and eggs. Their beaks are not as strong as those of eagles and hawks, however, but are suited to tearing open carcasses. The lack of feathers on the head is an adaptation that keeps the bird cleaner when eating, and their digestive system has evolved to handle bacteria so that the condor will not become ill from eating rotten meat.
Because the condor locates carcasses by sight, rather than by smell, it tends to avoid forested or brushy areas where spotting dead animals could be difficult or impossible. Areas such as these might also present problems with the bird getting airborne again, too. The Andean condor will sometimes fly 120 kilometres in a day in search of food.
Breeding: The Andean condor mates for life and nests at high elevations. It is thought that because of the heavy weight of the bird, it needs the altitude and strong air currents found in mountainous regions to get off the ground easily. The female lays one egg every other year right on the bare rock ledge and both parents participate in incubation and care of the chick. The chicks are not able to fly until they are 6 months old, and remain under their parent’s care for two years.
Location: The Andean condor is found all along the western coast of South America, along the ridge of the Andes Mountains, although it is rare in the northern section of its range. Although mountains are its favourite locale, it is sometimes found in deserts, grasslands, or along the shore.
Threats: Humans have moved into some of the areas formerly used by the condors, and it is now very rare in Colombia and Venezuela. The Andean condor is sometimes killed by farmers who believe that it is attacking their livestock. Another threat comes from the primitive belief that different body parts of the condor will treat certain ailments – it is thought that cancer can be cured by eating the condor’s stomach, and that a person will get sharper eyesight by eating the eyes. Poisons used to kill predatory animals are sometimes ingested by the condor, and pesticide residues could be affecting fertility and overall health.
Conservation efforts: Although numbers of the Andean condor had dipped perilously, efforts to save this species have been successful so far. North and South American captive breeding, combined with release in the birds’ home range, has helped numbers of the condors to climb. The hand reared, released birds have bred in the wild.
Do you know of or are you a part of an organisation that work to conserve the Andean Condor, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.