How The Peregrine Fund is helping
The Peregrine Fund has been supporting conservation and research for the Andean Condor in Ecuador (since 2008), Chile (2008-2009), Bolivia (since 2011) and Argentina (since 2012). Our support helps local biologists and students research and monitor wild populations and helps with captive breeding, environmental education, and community participation programs.
Since 2010, The Peregrine Fund, as a member of the Andean Condor Working Group, has been providing scientific advice to the Ministry of Environment of Ecuador on condor conservation, and since mid-2011 conducting collaborative research on movements and habitat use of Andean Condors.
Where they live
As its name suggests, the Andean Condor inhabits much of the Andes Mountain range along the Pacific coast region of western South America. It can be found from Colombia and northwestern Venezuela, all the way south to Tierra del Fuego.
This large scavenger can be seen soaring over high montane canyons and peaks throughout the Andes or along the coast in the southern part of its range. It often soars over open grassland areas as it searches for food.
What they do
With the longest wingspan of any raptor, Andean Condors are built for soaring and they do so effortlessly. Soaring makes it possible for them to fly for long periods of time without expending much energy. They only need to flap their wings occasionally; the rest of the time, they are floating on air. When you see a soaring condor, notice that the tips of its wings are pointing up. This helps with soaring by reducing drag, or air resistance. People who design airplanes have used this same feature on some airplane wings.
Adult Andean Condors are unmistakable with their large black bodies, white neck ruff and featherless heads. Juveniles are grayish-brown with no white neck ruff. Of all the New World Vultures, the Andean Condor is the only one that shows sexual dimorphism, which means there is a visible difference in size and physical characteristics between the male and the female. The males are larger than the females and they have a comb on top of their heads, which the females lack. Male condors are born with this comb and each one is unique. Biologists take photos of the male condors and learn to identify individuals by the patterns of wrinkles on their combs and faces. Males have yellow eyes, while the female's eyes are red.
At night, Andean Condors all get together to sleep. They can be found in relatively large numbers, roosting on inaccessible cliffs and rocky outcrops. These areas are up high to help keep them safe from ground predators.
If you are ever lucky enough to see an Andean Condor, you may notice that they often perch with their wings outspread, sunning themselves. Condors, like many birds and even humans, enjoy the feel of the warm sun on their backs. Condors spread their wings to allow the most sunlight to reach as many of their feathers as possible. They sun to stay warm and to keep their feathers healthy.
Like the California Condor, the Andean Condor poops on its own legs from time to time! Scientists believe that California Condors do this to help them stay cool in warm weather. Temperatures in the Andes are much cooler, so scientists believe that certain properties in the uric acid help disinfect their legs to help keep them clean.
Why they need our help
The Andean Condor is suffering widespread declines, especially in the northern part of its range. They are endangered in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador and vulnerable in many other parts of South America. As with many raptor species, these birds are shot and poisoned, or some die due to a changing landscape and a lack of adequate food.
In one case, Andean Condors could be found at sea bird colonies in Peru, but there they came into conflict with guano workers. It is the job of a guano worker to collect sea bird excrement to be used as fertilizer. The guano workers wanted to stop the condors from feeding on nestling seabirds so that these young birds could grow up and produce more guano for them to collect. That is why Andean Condors were killed off in some of these coastal areas.
In some countries, people capture condors for their rituals. Most often, the Andean Condors die a very slow death. In one ritual, the condor is tied to the back of a bucking bull. In another, the bird is tied to a frame and hit over and over until it dies. Many people in these countries are protesting these activities and trying to put a stop to them.
What they eat
Andean Condors, like other vultures, are principally carrion eaters, which means they eat animals that are already dead. However, some people who live in condor habitat have reported that these large birds occasionally also take newborn animals, such as cows and goats.
Andean Condors search for prey by soaring far and wide, using their keen eyesight to spot a meal. They are also attracted to large congregations of other raptors or scavengers, as this usually means that there is a feast to be had somewhere nearby. Andean Condors generally feed on large carrion, such as the remains of deer, cow, sheep, and the like, though they will eat smaller animals when they can find them.
Usually, several condors gather at a single carcass. When the carcass is large, they tend to feed mainly on soft body parts and viscera, which basically means the guts. Because of their large size, Andean Condors are dominant over all other avian scavengers at a carcass.
As nature's clean-up crew, condors and other carrion eaters often eat organisms in dead and decaying animals that are harmful to humans and the environment. They help keep us safe and the environment clean! Condors like to be clean, too. In fact, it is important for all birds to keep their feathers neat and well-groomed. But you’ve never seen a bird with a hair brush, right? Instead, they use their beaks to clean, or preen, their feathers.
Like all vultures, condors have very few feathers on their heads. When they eat, they sometimes put their heads deep into the cavities of rotting, stinky carcasses. If particles of this meat got deep into their feathers, they might cause bacteria or germs to grow. A bald head helps keep condors clean.
Nest, eggs and young
During courtship season, the male works hard to impress the female. He walks around with wings spread, making all kinds of unusual and interesting noises.
When the time is right, the female lays one chalky white egg. Andean Condors don't build their own nests. Instead, they lay the egg right on the substrate in a natural cavity in rock piles or in a cave high in cliff.
The embryo inside the egg needs a long time to develop. The female must incubate the egg for almost two months – a few days longer than a Harpy Eagle must incubate her egg. Once the egg hatches, the chick grows quickly. The parents must work hard to bring it enough food so it will grow into a healthy bird. Condors can’t carry food in their feet like most birds of prey. Instead, the adults store food for their young in their crop, a special pouch inside their throats where food sits before it travels to the stomach to be digested. When the adult returns to the nest, it regurgitates, or throws up, this food, which the young chick happily eats.
The chick remains in the nest 6-10 months until it is ready to fly, or fledge. It will stay with its parents for several more months learning how to find food and survive on its own. A juvenile, or young, condor is brownish in color. Condors become adults at 6 years of age. An adult pair usually produces only one chick every other year. This slow reproductive rate makes recovery of the species challenging.
Andean Condor and The World Center for Birds of Prey
The World Center for Birds of Prey offers fun ways to learn about birds of prey. Interactive activities, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets and quizzes to costumes and a touch table are available for the curious mind. We also have several different birds of prey on display year-round, including California Condors and a Turkey Vulture. We also have an Andean Condor specimen on display in our Biology and Ecology Room. Come for a visit, where our knowledgeable staff and volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you may have about Andean Condors or other birds of prey.