Andean condor (Vultur gryphus)

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Adult female Andean condor in flight
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Andean condor fact file

Andean condor description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyCathartidae
GenusVultur (1)

As one of the largest flying birds in the world, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) forms an awesome sight over the South American skies (5), as it soars gracefully on huge, motionless wings (6). These magnificent birds have glossy black plumage with white flight feathers on the wings (7) and a distinctive downy, white ruff around the neck (8). The bare skin on the head of the Andean condor varies in colour, but is usually reddish-pink at the base of the neck, and more mottled greyish-pink or yellow on the head (2). These birds have large feet with powerful claws and sharp, hooked beaks that allow them to easily tear apart their scavenged prey (9). The Andean condor is the only American vulture to show sexual dimorphism, with males possessing a large, fleshy lump on the front of their heads, called a caruncle, and neck wattles that are absent in females (2) (9). Juvenile Andean condors are a dull brown colour (2).

Spanish
Cóndor Andino.
Size
Length: 100 - 130 cm (2)
Wingspan: up to 320 cm (2)
Male weight: 11 - 15 kg (2)
Female weight: 8 - 11 kg (2)
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Andean condor biology

Andean condors roost on cliff faces and use thermal currents to lift off in the morning, and then spend most of the day soaring on updrafts looking for food. These birds scavenge on the remains of sheep, llamas, cattle, seals and occasionally newborn animals or the eggs of seabirds. The Andean condor’s excellent eyesight allows it to spot a carcass from several miles away, and this bird is also known to watch the behaviour of other animals or follow smaller scavenging birds to find a carcass (7). Its sharp, curved beak can easily tear through the flesh and hides of the toughest carcasses (7) (9). Up to 40 Andean condors have been observed together at a single large carcass (2).

The Andean condor has a long lifespan, in excess of 50 years, but breeds very slowly (7). Sexual maturity is not attained until 7 to 11 years, after which these birds, like all condors, mate for life (7). The male conducts an elaborate courtship display involving drawing the body up and fully extending the wings, as well as making loud tongue clicks, while the reddish skin of the neck becomes bright yellow (8). The female lays a single egg every other year, which both the male and female take turns to incubate (7) for about 54 to 58 days (8). The young Andean condors take a lot of time and effort to raise, being unable to fly until they are six months old and remaining reliant upon the adults for up to two more years (2) (7).

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Andean condor range

The Andean condor ranges across the Andes, in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay, south to Argentina and Chile (10).

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Andean condor habitat

This species is found in high mountains, lowland deserts, open grasslands, along coastlines and in alpine regions (9). Unlike many birds, the Andean condor does not build nests, but rather lays its eggs among boulders or in caves or holes (9).

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Andean condor status

The Andean condor is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1), listed on Appendix I of CITES (3) and listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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Andean condor threats

The Andean condor is adapted for exceptionally low mortality and low reproductive output, and is therefore highly vulnerable to human persecution, which persists over most of its range (2) (10). The Andean condor is killed for sport, and farmers kill it as a pest because they mistakenly believe it kills their livestock (7) (9). Additionally, condors have been affected by pesticides that have been carried up the food chain (7) (9) and by poison placed for mammalian predators (8). As the Andean condor mates for life, and shares parental duties, the death of a mate also has a knock-on impact on the other partner and the chick (7).

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Andean condor conservation

Recovery attempts for the Andean condor have been made through captive breeding and reintroduction programmes, which have been moderately successful (7). Captive-bred Andean condors have so far been reintroduced into the wild in Colombia and Venezuela, and early reports indicate that that some of these birds have begun to breed (8). These results are extremely encouraging and provide hope for the successful preservation of this magnificent bird. A similar project is currently underway in Argentina, and there is potential for reintroductions to be made throughout the species’ former range (10). However, it is imperative that an education campaign to try to reduce hunting of the Andean condor accompanies such measures, if reintroduced individuals are to be given the best possible chance of survival.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To learn more about the Andean condor and its conservation, see:

For more information on this and other bird species see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Flight feathers
The feathers at the end of the wing, involved in flight.
Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Sexual dimorphism
When males and females of the same species differ in appearance.
Wattles
Bare fleshy skin that hangs from the bill, throat or eye of birds.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (May, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (May, 2009)
    http://www.cms.int/
  5. Brookfield Zoo - Andean Condor (May, 2009)
    http://www.czs.org/czs/Brookfield/Exhibit-and-Animal-Guide/Feathers-and-Scales/Andean-Condor
  6. Canadian Museum of Nature - Condors (May, 2009)
    http://nature.ca/notebooks/english/condor.htm
  7. Blue Planet Biomes - Andean Condor (May, 2009)
    http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/andean_condor.htm
  8. Smithsonian National Zoological Park - Andean Condor (May, 2009)
    http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Birds/Facts/FactSheets/fact-andeancondor.cfm
  9. Rainforest Alliance - Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) (May, 2009)
    http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/resources/forest-facts/species-profiles/andean_condor.html
  10. BirdLife International (May, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3822
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Adult female Andean condor in flight  
Adult female Andean condor in flight

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