The Andean Condor, belonging to genus Vultur, is a New World vulture. As per a recent study on bird body masses, this hunting raptor has the heaviest average weight of any flying bird, leaving behind competitors like Trumpeter swans and Dalmatian pelicans. In 1758, Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus first described this species in Systema Naturae’s 10th edition.
Species: V. gryphus
The scientific name for the Andean condor is Vultur gryphus.
The size of an adult Andean condor is about 95 to 130 centimeters. Males are larger than females. They have a wingspan of 265 to 325 centimeters, which is larger than California condor.
Male weighs around 11 – 15 kilograms, while the female weighs around 8 – 11 kilograms. Among other measurements, the tarsus stands at 11 to 13 cms, while the tail is around 30 to 38 cms; and wing chord measures approximately 75 to 85 centimeters. The plumage of an adult specimen is black, and the color of their ruff is white. They have quite large white spots on wings which appear following the first moulting. Their neck and head are featherless and are insipid red in color. It can flush depending on its emotional state. Males possess a wattle on its neck, and their head is crowned with a blackish-red caruncle. The talons of their toes are blunt and straight. Their mid-toe is elongated, while the hind one is little developed. They have a hooked beak. They have no eyelashes. Males’ iris are brown, while the females’ iris are deep red.
This raptor species prefer alpine regions and open grasslands. They are hardly seen in coastal regions and deserts. They can live in an elevation as high as 5500 meters. This bird roost and nest on cliffs.
Vultur gryphus inhabits many parts of South America in the Andes, including Santa Marta mountain ranges. Their geographical distribution includes Colombia and Venezuela in the north and goes on to Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and western part of Argentina. The scattered population can be found in the lowlands of southwestern Brazil and eastern Bolivia.
This is a monogamous bird, and it is believed that they mate for life. They stay active during the day, mostly soaring in high altitude. They prefer to roost in places where they can launch flight without much flapping of the wing. Their communal roost includes both adults and juveniles. The number of roost sites goes up during summer and autumn. Males top the dominance hierarchy. This behavior led to the break-up of roosting sites with dominant males occupying spots where sun exposure is maximum. This bird can travel as far as two-hundred miles each day in search of food. They vigorously defend their breeding territory from other scavenging birds as well as other potential predators.The Andean Condor generally refrains from interacting directly with human beings.
Mating takes place early in the year – somewhere between February or March. Mating rituals include dancing, emitting hissing sounds and hopping with wings spread. They prefer to nest at elevations of 9500 ft to 17000 ft. Female lay 1 – 2 eggs that are of bluish-white in color.
The size of each egg ranges from 75 mm to 100 mm and it weighs around 280 grams. If the eggs are lost for some reason, they lay another egg. Both the male and the female take part in the incubation process that lasts for 54 to 60 days. Juveniles are greyish-brown, with brown ruff, and blackish neck and head. They take their first flight when they become six months old. The fledglings continue to be with their parents till they are two years old. They reach sexual maturity at the age of five or six.
Vultur gryphus primarily feed on carrion – generally large land mammals. They have not been seen feeding on whale or seal carcasses.
The Andean condor is a slowly-maturing raptor with adults having no natural predator. Their lifespan in the wild is not known, but it is believed that they can survive for around fifty years. In January 2010, at the Beardsley Zoo. in Connecticut, a wild-born, captive Andean condor died at the age of almost 80.
Their primary call is a hissing sound. They mostly use it to communicate with other specimens of its species.
The primary threats of this condor are secondary poisoning and habitat loss. In some of its native ages, their population has gone through a sharp decrease in recent times.
Adults have no natural predators. However, eggs and hatchlings are taken by small mammals, such as fox etc.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species names this species in the ‘Near-threatened’ category. In 1970, it was placed on top in the United States Endangered Species list.
This popular raptor is a national symbol of many South American countries, including Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.
In its native place, the Andean condor is known by other names including Peruvian condor, Chilean condor, Bolivian condor, and Ecuadorian condor among others.
The Andean condor plays a great role in the Andean region mythology and folklore. They are quite prominent in Andean arts from c. 2500 BCE.
In the Andean mythology, this raptor was related to the sun deity. It was believed that they were the ruler of the upper world.
Many Andean cultures consider this condor to be the symbol of health and power. It was believed that their bones and organs had medicinal powers.
In the Yawar Fiesta in Peru, an Andean condor is attached to the back of a bull, letting the raptor kill the bull using its talons. Later, the raptor is set free.
The Andean condor appeared in postal stamps in many countries including Venezuela in 2004, Chile in 2001, Colombia in 1992, Bolivia in 1985, Peru in 1973, Argentina in 1960 and Ecuador in 1958.
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