The Andean condor, large scavenger bird

With its white collar and its wide wings, the majestic Andean condor is at the heart of the mythology of the Andean regions. Close-up on a scavenger which, by eliminating corpses, plays an important role in theecosystem.

Identity card of the Andean condor

Hovering over the peaks South America, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) is a species of diurnal birds of prey belonging to the order Falconiformes and the family Cathartidae. It is one of the New World vultures, one of the oldest birds on Earth. The scavenger raptor is the only member of the genus Vultur, the California condor being classified in the genus Gymnogyps.

Description of the Andean condor

The largest raptor in the world, the condor is also one of the largest birds. Only the wandering albatross and the African marabou approach or equal their span which can reach 3.20m for the most impressive specimens. The vulture is recognized by its black plumage with metallic reflections as well as by its secondary flight feathers and its wing coverings entirely or partially white. Its hooked beak and sharp allows the condor to tear flesh from the corpses of marine or land mammals, regardless of their size. The base of its long plucked neck is adorned with a down collar white while the male’s bared head has a characteristic crest, wattles, and fleshy lobes.

Sexual dimorphism in the Andean condor

Very marked, sexual dimorphism first concerns the weight : 11 kilos for the male and 7.5 kilos for the smallest females. Such superiority of the male remains a mystery in the world of raptors in which the female is generally more imposing, until a third. The male’s head and neck display a dark red color that may change tone – depending on the influx of blood – in response to his mood, during intimidation between rivals or love parades. On the other hand, the female has no crest, wattles, or fleshy lobes on the head.

Flight of the Andean condor

Few birds can challenge the Andean condor for the majesty and technique of its flight. The span of its wings allows it to take full advantage of hot currents ascending aerials to glide while preserving energy. He rarely practices flapping flight because about thirty wing beats are enough to exhaust him. The raptor is thus able to roam the sky for long hours without getting tired. Its flight is all the more admirable as it takes place in circles and in silence. Like other cathartids, the Andean condor is indeed devoid of syrinx (organ located at the bottom of the birds’ trachea) and therefore cannot produce any vocal sound.

Andean condor habitat

As its name suggests, the raptor lives in the Andes in South America where it operates at an altitude of 3,000 to 5,000 meters. It is found from northern Colombia to the extreme south of the continent, along the coast Atlantic, in the low plains of Argentina to the mouth of the Rio Negro. The bird also frequents the coastal cliffs of the Peaceful, from Peru to southern Chile. Perfectly adapted to life at altitude, the Andean condor sleeps and nests on the mountainsides, thousands of meters above sea level.

Diet of the Andean condor

The Andean condor is a bird scavenger which preferably consumes large carcasses of deer, llamas and cattle, but it does not refuse the remains of small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, mice as well as lizards and insects. In the southern Andes, the bird eats the carrion of penguins, fish as well as cetaceans stranded. By cleaning the carcasses, it prevents the formation of foci of infection and by killing sick animals, it hinders the progression of possible epidemics that can contaminate wild herds and livestock. His digestive system acid promotes the elimination of bacteria and the assimilation of meat putrefied without damage. In times of food shortage, the condor is able to survive without feeding for a week or two.

Social life of the Andean condor

The Andean condor belongs to a partially gregarious who readily seeks the company of his fellows and it is rare that rivalries cause direct confrontations. The vulture does not nest in large colonies. About twenty individuals, including young people and adults, can come together to spend the night. However, there are mass gatheringssifs around a large carrion: up to sixty birds which do not abandon the corpse until after having carefully cleaned it of the tiniest piece of flesh.

Reproduction of the Andean condor

Community life breaks out at the time of reproduction. United for life, couples of condors demonstrate loyalty found in large birds. The future parents find the same nesting site as the previous year, usually in the crevice of a rock wall, located on the cliff side. A large white egg is placed on the rock because the condor does not build a nest. Incubation – which lasts approximately two months– is mainly provided by the female, replaced by the male when she is away. The chick is fed morning and evening but is only entitled to one meal as soon as the first appear. feathers, around three weeks. At six months, he will be able to fly but will be fed until his first birthday. This long cycle of education explains a reproduction every two years only.

Threats to the Andean condor

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the species in category almost threatened. Among the causes of its decline are trophy hunting, the reduction of its habitat, the scarcity of its food (food competition). The raptor is also a victim indirect poisonings by a technique well known in South America: the breeders dispose of the poison in a carrion in order to bait the natural predators (pumas, foxes) having attacked their cattle then their poisoned corpses are consumed by the condor. If these birds have a significant longevity – approximately 50 years – these episodes of massive deaths are worrying in view of the low rate of Nativity of the Andean condor.

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