The Animal Files
Class Aves, Order Falconiformes, Family Cathartidae, Genus species Vultur gyrphus.
Found throught the entire range of the Andes Mountains of South America. Often seen at the coast but returns to the mountains
Length 52 inches with a wing span exceeding 10 feet; weight 20 to 25 pounds; males are somewhat larger than females. Both
sexes are alike in appearance with the exception that the male has a bare caruncle (wattle, fleshy growth) on its head. Overall
color is shiny black with the wings having large white patches, a white ring on the neck and a bare gray-red head. The bill is
hooked and ivory in color and the neck is wrinkled.
Soars without effort, rarely flapping its wings. Can be found solitary, in pairs and in groups when prey is located.
Both male and female incubate a single egg which is laid every other year. Female may lay in successive years if the first egg did
not hatch or is lost. Nest is built on an exposed ledge. Chicks altricial and nidicolous (remain in nest until able to fly) and depend
on parents for food into the second year.
In wild: Carrion and some sea bird eggs.
In zoo: Raw meat, bones, mice.
CITES - Appendix I - "Most restricted; species threatened with extinction"
ESA - Endangered - "A species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."
The condor rides the air like a glider. He can flap his wings, but not for long. To do
so would require larger breast muscles, and thus a heavier body. Aerodynamically,
the condor has evolved a delicate balance between body weight and wing size.
When the condor does flap his wings, it usually is in bursts of three to five strokes,
with pauses in between. He reserves flapping for an added boost while crossing an
area that has no updrafts, for taking off or landing, or for use in emergencies.
In flight, he moves silently in vast circles or descends in long, straight glides, the wind
in his wings becoming audible at a hundred feet and can sail steadily at speeds averaging 35 mph. Surprisingly condors are relatively clean birds. After each meal,
they clean their heads and necks in grass or sand.
On the Peruvian coast, 400 feet above the Pacific Ocean, more than a dozen
condors congregate. It is summer in South America, and the birds have migrated 40-50 miles from mountainous islands to feed on sea lions that die and wash ashore.
The Andean condor, with a wingspan of over ten feet, is considered the largest flying bird. Its range is from Venezuela to
Patagonia. Their habitat is mountainous, where air currents are normally prevalent. Because of their large size (20-25 lbs.), they
must have thermals (rising warm air currents) in order to lift them off the ground. They are very efficient in their use of thermals,
and glide over many hundreds of miles in search of food. Their diet consists of dead animals which they locate by sight. Only
rarely do they kill an animal and in fact their claws are strong but not as sharp as other birds of prey so they are not really
adapted to kill prey.
Condors have heads that are bare of feathers. This is an adaptation for feeding on carcasses. On Andean condors the bare skin
of the head is red or blackish red. There is a large, comb-like fleshy caruncle on the head, loose folds of skin on the side of the
neck, and a two inch pendant wattle. The overall color is glossy black with some white on the wings and a snowy-white neck
ruff. Males have grey eyes and females red.
Andean condor courtship consists of a dance on the ground with the birds walking back and forth hissing and clucking with their
wings held out. A single egg is laid on the bare rock of a ledge or cave in a cliff face. The chick hatches after 54-58 days. Both
parents incubate and care for the young. The chick cannot fly for about five months, and not for any distance until seven months.
By ten to twelve months of age it can fly well enough to forage, but the parents still feed it. Young are produced only every
other year, and usually only one chick. They are not old enough to reproduce until at least the age of six. So even though
condors are very long-lived (fifty years in captivity), they do not produce very many young.
The Andean condor has been used in a study to monitor release sites for the California condor. Only females are released in
order to allow no chance of breeding. Male chicks from the program are being released in the Andes, and eventually the
females will be re-captured and sent to join them. San Antonio Zoo has participated in this program by providing eggs.
The most grandiose fowl of the American Andes Mountains is the Condor (Vultur gryphus) that belongs to the order of
Falconiforms and to the Cathartidae family (New World Vultures) whose members are characterized by being fed almost
exclusively with carrion. The Condor is a sedentary and monogamous large fowl with certain nocturnal habits. Its head does not
have any feathers and the male is differentiated easily from the female by its comb or caruncle that carries on its front and part of
the beak. Furthermore, the male is of greater size and has the eye iris of yellowish brown color while that of its mate is reddish;
its vision is really extraordinary. Its beak is stout with a sharp hook and cutting edges; it has a voluminous maw that stands out
when full. It has very strong legs and fingers but with relatively weak blunt nails. Its youth plumage is of grayish brown color and
when adult it is generally bluish black and exhibits a white and large down necklace and also white stains in the extremities of its
wings. An adult male can weigh about 12 kilos and measure between the extremes of its beak and tail 1.30 meters. Its spread in
flight can reach 3.50 meters and it can fly over about 7000 meters of altitude and in favorable climatic conditions to maintain the
flight during a certain time at about 55 Km/hour. It does not have large pectoral muscles, that is the reason why it only moves its
wings when it is necessary, that is, when taking off, landing or in cases of emergency. Its long and broad wings make possible
flying as a glider using adroitly the air currents. The female Condor incubates only once per year one or two white eggs that it
deposits in depressions on the almost barren rock, alternating with the male to hatch it from 54 to 58 days. The nestling's
development is slow and it stays in the nest for about six months, still depending on its parents for another half of a year. They
will seek for food and will help it to eat. The Condor is fed especially with carrion and very sporadically could assault and kill
recently born, injured, sick or exhausted animals; the Condor is neither ferocious nor an aggressive predator and has an
astonishing capacity to resist hunger and thirst. It can remain as long as one month and a half without eating conserving always
its vigor. Furthermore, it is known that this gregarious fowl can fly hundreds of kilometers far from its place of customary
residence in search of food. It tends to eat until filled to such a point that it suffers difficulty in taking off.
There are proofs that in captivity an Andean Condor can get to live about 85 years and surpass the century in wild state. The
Condor is found mainly in the Andes from Venezuela and Colombia as far as Tierra del Fuego toward the south of Chile and
Argentina. Unfortunately today it is a species in danger of extinction. It is disconcerting that in the life of the Condor, according
to tradition, its death is so peculiar. At the end of its long life the Condor feels tired and somewhat weak, it believes that its life
does not have any sense any more, therefore, it opts for the end preferred by its race and practiced for millennia. Thus, the
Condor decides its suicide for which it soars in flight and tries to reach a high altitude so that it may descend straight down at an
extraordinary speed, finally getting dashed against the rocky face of a mountain, thus giving an end to a century reign in the
In Inkan times, the Condor or "Apu Kuntur" was considered a very special divinity that was supposed to join the "Hanan
Pacha" with the "Kay Pacha". Certainly it had to possess special shrines for its cult, similar to that found today in Machupicchu.
The peoples have created through the history many legends giving to it several characteristics, for example, tradition tells that a
dead Condor fell in the courtyard of the Cusquenian Aqllawasi or House of the Virgins of the Sun, interpreting that as the
announcement of the Tawantinsuyo's destruction. Today, the Condor is not an important God among Andean people any more,
but it still maintains some of its "superior or divine characteristics".
Today, in some remote villages of Qosqo and Apurimac, peasants annually celebrate what is known as " Yawar Fiesta"
(Yawar = "blood" in Quechua) or "Blood Celebration", for which it will be indispensable to capture a live Condor using two
systems: usually peasants must go to a far away place frequented by Condors where they kill a horse, mule or any other large
animal; the body is left open in a visible spot to attract the Condor. After some time a Condor will descend to devour the
remains of the animal, but it eats too much and becomes too heavy to soar in flight again. Catchers take advantage of the
situation and run, protected with "ponchos" in order to catch the Condor. Another means of apprehension is to dig a large hole
in the ground that is covered with sticks and over which remains of a dead animal are placed; when a Condor lands over the
place, someone hidden inside the hole ties its feet making possible thus its apprehension. The Condor will be driven toward the
village or community where peasants will perform various ceremonies in its honor. It will be very adorned and peasants will
offer to it wine or rum to drink; the fowl will probably get drunk after a while. The principal day people will build an improvised
inclosure as a ring in the village's main square to which all the population attend. For the spectacle the feet of the Condor should
be sewn onto the loin of a bull and thus, the two animals will be left free in the ring. When feeling its feet bound and trying to
recover its freedom, the Condor will use its powerful beak against the bull's back. The bull will then undertake a crazy, angry
race and struggle to get rid of the Condor. The bull will not surrender and ends up losing a massive amount of blood. At the end
of about 15 minutes the peasants will stop the spectacle; the animals will be separated and the death of the bull will not be
allowed. People believe that like this the Condor that is the connection between the sky and the earth will remain satisfied
having eaten fresh blood and meat. Next day, peasants will have another ceremony in order to release the condor that is carried
to a nearby mountain and let go in unconditional freedom. The next year people will have a similar ceremony and possibly they
will capture the same Condor. The "Yawar Fiesta" is developed not only in order to honor the "Apu Kuntur" but also as a form
of "revenge" that today Andean people represented by the Condor have against the humiliating conquest and Hispanics
represented by the bull that was imported from Spain.