- Status: Near threatened
- Known as: Andean Condor
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: Several thousand; no accurate figures are available.
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The Andean condor is classified as a raptor, a bird of prey, and the largest of this type. This is a huge and heavy bird, with a wingspan up to 320 centimeters and a beak to a tail length between 100 centimeters and 130 centimeters. These birds can weigh 15 kilograms.
Not only are the male birds larger than the females, but their wattles and comb also distinguish them. Both sexes sport a fluffy white-collar, while the predominant body color is black with white secondary wing feathers. This condor has a long lifespan, 50 years or more.
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Andean condors are scavengers, meaning that they feed mostly on dead animals, although they have been known to take sea birds and eggs. However, their beaks are not as strong as those of eagles and hawks 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 kilometers a day in search of food.
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The Andean condor mates for life and nests at high elevations. It is thought that because of the heavyweight of the bird, it needs the altitude and strong air currents found in mountainous regions and terrains 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 cannot fly until they are 6 months old and remain under their parent’s care for two years.
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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 favorite locale, it is sometimes found in deserts, grasslands, or along the shore.
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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 getting sharper eyesight by eating the eyes.
The poisons used in killing predatory animals are sometimes ingested by the condor, and pesticide residues could be affecting fertility and overall health.
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Although numbers of the Andean condor had dipped perilously, efforts to save this species have been successful so far. With a release in the birds’ home range, North and South American captive breeding has the condor soars to climb. The hand-reared, released birds have bred in the wild.
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Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the Andean Condor? Then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.