New series! I am proud to introduce you to Vednesday Vulture, which will cover all of the Old World (Europe, Africa and Asia) and New World (North and South America) species of vulture. Now, I know that some of you might think “Vultures? Ew gross!”, but vultures are actually extremely interesting birds. Hopefully you’ll enjoy learning about them as much as I will.
Our first vulture hails from the New World. The Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) can be found along the Pacific coasts and Andes mountain range of South America, and is considered to be a national symbol of Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Peru. The Andean Condor is also the largest flying bird in the world, calculated by combined weight and wingspan. Its wingspan is only exceeded by four other species, sea birds like albatross and pelicans, and they can’t match it for weight.
Adult Andean Condors have wingspans that have been measured up to 10.5 feet (3.2 meters). Males can weigh up to 33 pounds (15 kg), while females are slightly smaller at 24 pounds (11 kg). They are slightly shorter in body length than their cousins, the California Condor, but they still have larger wingspans and heavier bodies. The plumage of adult Andean Condors is black, with a “collar” of white feathers around the neck, where the transition from bare skin to body feathers begins, and sometimes white bands on the wings of mature males.
Andean Condors are soaring birds, making their nests at elevations of 16,000 feet (5,000 meters) and higher. It will flap its wings to leave the ground, but once it reaches its desired elevation it can hold its wings steady, flapping only occasionally, for hours. They use thermal drafts to maintain elevation. They are primarily scavengers, feeding on the carcasses of large animals typically found within its range. While coastal Andean Condors usually feed on alpaca, rhea, llamas, guanacos, deer and even marine mammals, inland birds usually find the carrion of domestic livestock. They can hunt small animals (rabbits and rodents) but are not particularly well-equipped for it - they don’t have the grasping talons that many birds of prey do.
Andean Condors form lifelong mating relationships after reaching sexual maturity, which is at about five or six years old. Mating pairs only lay eggs every other year, usually in February and March. They prefer to make their nests at high elevations, and females will usually only lay one or two eggs. Occasionally, if an egg or young chick is lost, the female will lay another in the same year. Both the male and female take turns incubating the egg, which takes up to 60 days. Chicks are covered in dark gray fuzz, which helps to camouflage them, but they will fledge and be ready to fly at six months. They continue to hunt with their parents until they reach two years of age, when they are usually displaced by a new clutch. Andean Condors are most vulnerable during their first six months of life, before they can fly. Healthy adults have no known natural predators.
Andean Condors are considered to be near threatened by the IUCN, with their population being reduced by hunting, secondary poisoning of animals that the birds then feed on, and habitat destruction. Captive breeding programs have been managed in a few countries within their range, and breeders will often remove the first egg from the nest in order to induce the parents to lay another, which they are usually then allowed to raise. The “kidnapped” eggs are hand-raised by humans. Andean Condors have a significant lifespan. Breeding pairs can be up to fifty years old and still producing eggs, and some individuals have lived to be seventy years old.
Source for images used in this post.