Condor Of The Andes: Characteristics, Habitat, Reproduction, Feeding

The condor of the Andes ( Vultur gryphus ) is a bird that is part of the Cathartidae family. This South American vulture is black, with a distinctive collar of white feathers, which surrounds its neck. The head and neck have very few feathers, being almost bare.

Thus, in those areas, his skin can be seen, pale pink in color. This tone varies, in response to the emotional state in which the bird is. The male has a kind of fleshy crest, which starts from the middle of the head and covers up to the beak.

In relation to the wings, these are large, with a wingspan of up to 3.3 meters. In addition, they have a white spot, which looks more noticeable in males. In terms of body dimensions, the male is larger than the female.

This species is distributed in the South American Andean mountain range, covering Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. In these countries, it lives in open areas and in high alpine regions.

It is an animal that feeds mainly on carrion. Thus, it is an important part of the ecosystem , since it consumes the decomposed meat of dead animals, before it could become a health risk.

characteristics

Size

The male reaches a weight that ranges from 11 to 15 kilograms, while the female has a body mass of 8 to 11 kilograms. As for the total length, it can vary from 100 to 130 centimeters.

In relation to the wing, the wingspan is 270 to 320 centimeters and the chord measures between 75.7 and 85.2 centimeters. The tail is 13 to 15 inches long and the tarsus is 11.5 to 12.5 inches.

Plumage

The adult has a uniform black plumage, except for a white collar that surrounds the base of the neck. In hatchlings, the feathers are light gray, while the young are brown or olive gray.

The condor of the Andes lacks feathers on the head and neck, so the skin is exposed. The color of the skin in this area of ​​the body varies, according to the emotional state of the animal.

Thus, you can flush when you are excited or aggressive. In this way, it can communicate with the rest of the group, as well as being used by the male as an exhibition during courtship.

Experts point out that such baldness is probably a hygienic adaptation. This is because bare skin is much easier to clean and keep neat after eating carrion. In addition, exposing the skin directly to the sun’s rays helps the ultraviolet rays to eliminate any residual bacteria.

Wings

On the other hand, the wings have white bands that appear after the first molt. At the moment of extending them, a space opens between the tips of the primary wings. This is an adaptation to be able to rise more efficiently.

Legs

The toes of the Vultur gryphus are different from those of most raptors. Thus, the middle one is long and the rear is very underdeveloped. As for the claws, they are straight and blunt.

These characteristics are adapted to its lifestyle, so it can walk on the ground with ease, in addition to scavenging for carrion. In this sense, its legs and claws are not used as a defense organ, as in almost all vultures and birds of prey.

Peak

The Andes condor has a strong, hooked beak. The edges are sharp and cutting, making it easy for you to tear rotten meat off animals. As for the color, the bases that are in the jaws, both the lower and the upper ones, are dark. The rest of the beak is ivory in color. In the following video you can see the characteristics of these birds:

Sexual dimorphism

In this species, sexual dimorphism is marked. Thus, the male is much larger than the female, which is the opposite of what occurs in most birds of prey.

In addition, males have a large fleshy crest or caruncle, which is located from the midline of the head and reaches the forehead. There is also a difference in the color of the eyes. Males have brownish irises, while females have red.

Flight

The Andes condor spends long hours a day flying. This bird soars with wings held horizontally and with primary feathers tipped up. Thus, it flaps its wings as it rises from the ground until it reaches a moderate elevation. Then, using thermal currents, it stays in the air.

From a physiological point of view, this bird is characterized by having a small sternum, which is why it lacks a strong bone base to anchor the strong flight muscles.

Cultural importance

The Vultur gryphus is a very important animal within the Andean culture. Thus, it is the emblematic bird of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. In this way, this species is associated with the natural wealth of the Andean landscapes.

In addition, it plays an important role in South American mythology and folklore. In this sense, the Andean condor has been represented in local art, since 2,500 BC. C., as is part of some indigenous religions.

In relation to Andean mythology, this species is associated with the deity of the sun , and is associated with him as the ruler of the upper world. It is also considered a symbol of health and power, which is why its bones and organs are attributed medicinal properties.

In Chile, the comic strip character known as Condorito is well known. This represents an anthropomorphic condor, which lives in a typical provincial city. His image has also appeared on some Colombian and Chilean banknotes and coins and on coats of arms, as a symbol related to the Andean mountains.

Taxonomy

-Animal Kingdom.

-Subreino: Bilateria.

-Filum: Cordado.

-Subfilum: Vertebrate.

-Infrafilum: Gnathostomata.

-Superclass: Tetrapoda.

-Class: Birds.

-Order: Accipitriformes.

-Family: Cathartidae.

-Gender: Vultur.

-Species: Vultur gryphus .

Habitat and distribution

– Distribution

The Andean condor, as this species is also known, is distributed in the South American Andean mountain range. Thus, to the north, its range begins in Colombia and Venezuela. Then it goes south, along the entire Andes of Peru, Ecuador and Chile, through Bolivia. Finally, it extends to Tierra del Fuego, in Argentina.

Colombia

Originally, it was widely located in geographic regions with a height between 1,800 to 5,200 meters, except in the Sierra Nevada, in Santa Marta. The populations decreased drastically in this geographic range, affecting the communities that lived in Cocuy, Puracé, Huila and in the north of Tolima.

Since the early 1990s, about 50 birds of this species have been introduced. The intention is to complement the remaining communities.

Venezuela

In earlier times, the Vultur gryphus occurred in areas at an altitude of 2000 and 5000 meters above sea level, such as in the Sierra de Perijá, in the state of Zulia and from the southern part of Táchira to Mérida. In 1990, several birds were reintroduced in the areas around Apartaderos (Mérida). However, some of these animals were hunted.

Ecuador

The condor of the Andes is registered mainly from 2,000 to 4,000 meters above sea level. However, it can occasionally be located lower, as low as 1,700 meters above sea level, or as high as 4,000 – 500 meters above sea level.

It is currently little seen in the Quito region. Likewise, only small groups survive on the slopes of the Cayambe, Antisana and Pichincha volcanoes and in the Cajas National Park, in Azuay.

Bolivia

This bird of prey is presumably resident in the eastern and western mountain ranges, at an altitude of 300 to 4500 meters above sea level.

Peru

Its distribution is widespread in the Andean mountains. In years past, it used to regularly descend to the Paracas peninsula, which is at sea level.

Chile

The Vultur gryphus is resident throughout the Andes, spanning from Atacama to Tierra del Fuego. It also usually descends to the coast, in the northernmost regions of Fuegian and Atacama.

The condor of the Andes crosses, during the winter, the Central Valley. Because of this, they can be seen in the Coastal Range. Researchers have located new resting areas in the south of Chile, which is why they consider that there is a numerically and demographically stable population.

Land of Fire

This species is mainly distributed in the mountainous area located south of Isla Grande. There are no records towards the northeast of said island.

Brazil

The location in the Brazilian territory is seasonal, being found west of Cáceres, west of Mato Grosso and in the region of the Juruá River. It has a preference for Vulture Island, where it can feed on the carrion accumulated during the summer.

Paraguay

The condor of the Andes is probably vagrant during the non-reproductive season, and can be found in the Upper Chacho and in central Paraguay.

– Habitat

The habitat of the Vultur gryphus is mainly made up of open grasslands and alpine areas with an elevation of up to 5,000 meters above sea level. Within their areas. prefers open, non-wooded areas that make it easier to see carrion from the air. Thus, it lives in the moor and in the mountainous and rocky regions.

Occasionally it can spread to the lowlands, east of Bolivia, southwestern Brazil and north of Peru. It also descends into the deserts of Peru and Chile.

In relation to the southern part of Patagonia, it is a region rich in herbivores, making it attractive for the bird. In that area, it inhabits beech forests and meadows, using the cliffs to rest and nest.

State of conservation

The Andean condor is threatened throughout its range, by indiscriminate hunting and by the loss of its habitat. Due to this situation, the IUCN has listed this species as an animal very close to being vulnerable to extinction.

The populations of the Vultur gryphus are in danger mainly in the northern region of their distribution, especially in Colombia and Venezuela, where they annually experience significant declines. As for Ecuador, it is not the exception to this situation. Currently, in that country, the species is classified as in a critical state of extinction.

– Threats

The fact that this South American bird has a low reproductive rate makes it extremely vulnerable to the actions of human beings.

Thus, animal breeders see the condor of the Andes as a danger, since they are of the belief that it attacks and kills livestock. This has the consequence that they hunt the bird indiscriminately.

Some of the factors that affect the Andean condor is the small size of its population and the extraction of natural resources, which contributes to the loss and fragmentation of habitat. Also, secondary poisoning occurs, due to the intake of lead, contained in the carrion meat consumed by this bird.

On the other hand, recently specialists have shown interspecific competition with black vultures ( Coragyps atratus ). This happens because they have begun to share the same habitat, so there is a confrontation over the corpses of the animals.

– Conservation actions

The Vultur gryphus is included in Appendix I of CITES and in Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Recovery plans for this species include the introduction of captive-bred Andean condors in North American zoos. Thus, in 1989 the first birds were released, in Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina. These birds are tracked by satellite, in order to observe and monitor their movements.

Reproduction

The sexual maturity of the condor of the Andes occurs when it is between 5 and 6 years old. When these birds mate, they do so for life. In relation to the mating season, it varies geographically. However, it generally occurs from February to June.

Furthermore, the mating interval is also variable, as it depends on the availability of food and the quality of the habitat.

Courtship

As for courtship, it includes a wide variety of exhibits. Even the male performs several behaviors prior to this.

Thus, the male rubs his neck and head against a tree. In addition, it gives the female small twigs, which both keep in the wing feathers. After this, the male initiates the ritual of falling in love.

In courtship displays, the skin covering the male’s neck swells and changes color, turning bright yellow. Then, little by little he gets closer to the female.

While walking, with his neck extended and hissing, the male alternates the steps with small turns to the right and to the left. Subsequently, spread your wings and click with your tongue.

Other displays of courtship include snapping and whistling, accompanied by leaping and dancing, with wings partially extended. If the female accepts the male, she slightly tilts her body, keeping her head at the same level as her shoulders. In the following video you can see how a pair of condors mate:

Nesting

The Vultur gryphus prefers to reproduce and rest in areas with elevations between 3,000 and 5,000 meters above sea level. The nest is not very elaborate, so the bird only places a few sticks around the eggs, creating a kind of protective barrier.

However, in the coastal regions of Peru, where cliffs are not very frequent, some nests are just crevices that exist in the rocks on the slopes. The Andes condor can select a nest and perch near it almost two months before mating.

When the time to lay the egg approaches, the female begins to approach the edge of the nest, until it perches and lays one or two eggs. These have a bluish-white hue, weigh 280 grams, and measure between 75 and 100 millimeters. If the egg hatches, the female lays another.

In relation to incubation, both parents do it, taking turns in this task. This stage lasts between 54 and 58 days.

The babies

Newborns are covered by a greyish down, which persists until juvenile age, when they acquire the plumage of the adult. They begin to fly after six months, but remain with their parents for approximately two years.

The parents share the care of the young. During the first months, one of these is always present in the nest. However, gradually, they spend more time outside the nest, but always close to it.

Feeding

The Andean condor feeds mainly on carrion. This bird can travel more than 200 kilometers a day to look for dead animals that other predators have left on the ground.

Generally prefers the carcasses of large animals, such as llamas ( Lama glama ), Guanacos ( Lama guanicoe), alpacas ( Vicugna pacos ), armadillos and deer. Also, you could supplement your diet with fresh vegetables.

However, currently, the vast majority of Andean condor populations consume carrion from domestic animals. Thus, their diet is made up of cattle ( Bos primigenius taurus ), donkeys ( Equus africanus asinus ) and horses ( Equus ferus caballus ).

It also eats pigs ( Sus scrofa domesticus ), mules, goats ( Capra aegagrus hircus ), sheep ( Ovis aries ), and dogs ( Canis lupus familiaris ). In addition, it tends to feed on other species, such as wild boars ( Sus scrofa ), foxes ( Vulpes vulpes ), rabbits ( Oryctolagus cuniculus ) and deer ( Cervus elaphus ).

Those that live in regions near the coast, their diet consists mainly of carrion from marine mammals, such as cetaceans. Likewise, they take the eggs from the nests of smaller birds.

Food methods

Experts have observed the Andes condor hunt small live animals, such as birds, rodents, and rabbits. To kill them, they usually do so by repeatedly prodding the body with their beak.

This technique, uncommon in raptors, is used because this animal lacks powerful legs and sharp claws, which they can use to subdue the prey and cause its death.

When the Vultur gryphus is on the cliff, it uses thermal currents. These allow you to get up and out of that high-rise area. In this way, with little energy expenditure, they go out in search of carrion.

Alliances

Also, to locate animal carcasses, you can follow other scavengers. In this sense, it persecutes vultures belonging to the genus Cathartes, such as the turkey vulture ( C. aura ), the greater yellow-headed vulture ( C. melambrotus ) and the lesser yellow-headed vulture ( C. burrovianus ).

With these species, the condor of the Andes establishes a relationship of mutual help. Cathartes vultures, being smaller in size, cannot pierce the tough skins of large animals with their beaks. However, they quickly detect the presence of a corpse.

Because of this, the condor follows them and when it finds the carrion, it cuts the skin with its strong beak, exposing the meat and guts, which the vultures take advantage of.

Behavior

The  Vultur gryphus has diurnal habits. When she is not resting on the cliffs, she is flying, in search of carrion. In cold climates, this bird remains almost immobile, with very few interactions in the group.

However, the moment the atmosphere starts to get warm, they expose their colorful collars, thus initiating social interactions, such as courtship. Within the clusters, there is a developed social structure. To determine the pecking order, they rely on competitive behaviors and vocalizations.

Thus, the males dominate over the females and the adults over the young. In general, adult males, who have reached sexual maturity, occupy the upper ranks. In this way, they feed first, followed by immature males, who do so after the adults disperse.

Also, this behavior causes segregation at rest sites. In this way, the dominant males occupy preferential sites, where there is optimal exposure to the sun and at the same time there is protection against the wind.

Cleanliness

The condor of the Andes cleans its face and neck after feeding. Thus, these parts of their body rub against the ground, thus eliminating any remaining decomposing food.

Also, you can spend a long time cleansing your body. For this, it usually immerses itself in bodies of water, from which it leaves and enters several times. After this, they last between two and three hours preening and sunbathing, until the feathers are very dry.

References 

  1. Wikipedia (2019). They walk condor. Recovered from en.wikipedia.org.
  2. Kidd, T. (2014). Vultur gryphus. Animal Diversity. Recovered from animaldiversity.org.
  3. ITIS (2019). Vultur gryphus. Recovered from itis.gov.
  4. National aviary (2019). They walk condor. Recovered from aviary.org.
  5. BirdLife International (2017). Vultur gryphus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017. Recovered from iucnredlist.org
  6. BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Vultur gryphus. Recovered from birdlife.org.
  7. Global Raptor Information Network. (2019). Andean Condor Vultur gryphus. Recovered from globalraptors.org.
  8. Rainforest Alliance (2019). Andean Condor Vultur gryphus, Recovered from rainforest-alliance.org.
  9. Adrián Naveda-Rodríguez, Félix Hernán Vargas, Sebastián Kohn, Galo Zapata-Ríos (2016). Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) in Ecuador: Geographic Distribution, Population Size and Extinction Risk. Recovered from journals.plos.org.
  10. Janet Gailey, Niels Bolwig (1972). Observations on the behavior of the andean condor (Vultur gryphus). Recovered from sora.unm.edu.

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