Andean Condor

Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)

Near Threatened

Andean Condors are native to the very highest mountains within the Andes Mountain chain of South America.  Although they’re occasionally found along the shorelines of Peru and Chile when stranded whales or seals make foraging profitable, they’re more commonly found soaring up to 5000 meters over open grasslands and alpine regions.

Andean Condors are among the largest flying birds, with a body weight of 20-25 lbs and a wingspan of over 10 feet.  They are mostly black with large white patches on their wings and the distinctive bald head for which vultures are known.  Like other vultures, Condors have no feathers on their heads so they can feed on carrion without getting their heads dirty – after a meal, you’ll often see a Condor wiping her head on the ground to clean herself off.

The Andean Condor is also the only New World vulture to show obvious differences between males and females.  Males have dark eyes and a fleshy crest on their heads; females have bright red eyes and a more sleek, stream-lined head.  Both males and females sport a beautiful white collar that looks almost like fur trim on a fancy cloak.

These long-lived birds are not even considered adults until they are eight years old, after which they might be expected to breed every-other-year until they’re over 50 years old.  That means losses to the Andean Condor population are slow to reverse, compared to birds that lay several eggs every season.

Like all vultures, Andean Condors are important members of Nature’s “clean-up crew.”  They scavenge from large and medium sized carcasses of both wild and domestic livestock (such as guanos or cattle), removing carrion and potential disease vectors from the environment.  Unfortunately, this has led to them being incorrectly accused of having killed the livestock they are found consuming.  As a result, they’ve been victims of active persecution over the course of their range, where they are routinely poisoned with baited carcasses.  Lead poisoning from ammunition used in game hunting – and then consumed by Condors and other vultures when they clean up what’s left behind – is also an increasing threat.  As of 2010, the largest known population of Andean Condors is comprised only 200 adult birds.  Such low numbers are worrying for a species clearly adapted for longevity, low mortality, and an equally low rate of reproduction.

The National Aviary is the only place in America that’s home to two pairs of Andean Condors; we have hatched and reared two chicks for the Andean Condor Species Survival Plan® (SSP®) since 2003.  In all, over 60 Andean Condors have been returned to the Colombian Andes from zoos in the U.S. as part of an effort to support a dwindling wild population, including three birds hatched at the National Aviary.