National Aviary Welcomes New Pair of Andean Condors, One of the World’s Largest Flighted Birds


12/2/2013

December 2, 2013 (Pittsburgh, PA) – The National Aviary today welcomed a new pair of Andean Condors now on exhibit outdoors in Condor Court.
 
“This is an exciting day. While Andean Condors are popular and charismatic birds because of their impressive size and unique appearance, they are also an important species from an animal management standpoint,” said Kurt Hundgen, Director of Animal Collections at the National Aviary. “Their numbers in the wild are dwindling, and only one chick was produced in the zoo population last year. We have a great opportunity to make a dramatic impact breeding these birds.”
 
The National Aviary’s two new Andean Condors were acquired as a recommended breeding pair. The male, named Lurch, is at least 43 years old and came to the National Aviary from the San Antonio Zoo. The female, Precious, came from the Dallas Zoo and is at least 36. Both were originally wild caught, making their exact hatch dates unknown. The pair will initially live in separate but adjacent exhibits as they adjust to their new homes. In the coming weeks and months, National Aviary staff will gradually introduce them to one another in shared space, with cohabitation and breeding as the ultimate goal.
 
“There are some animals that breed with little to no effort on the owner’s part; put them together and they will mate,” says Hundgen. “Like many birds, Andean Condors need to get to know one another, form a bond, and hopefully be compatible for reproduction, and not just in the physical sense. We will do everything we can to encourage courtship and mating.”
 
Andean condors are among the largest flying birds with a body weight of 20-25 pounds and a wingspan of over ten feet.  They are mostly black with large white patches on their wings and the distinctive bald head for which vultures are known.  Condors have no feathers on their heads, which allows the birds to more easily clean themselves after feeding on carrion. The Andean Condor is the only New World vulture that shows obvious differences between males and females, a trait called sexual dimorphism.  Males have dark brown eyes, a fleshy crest on their heads, and a wattle on their necks, while females have bright red eyes and lack the crest and wattle.
 
The Andean Condor species is listed as “Near Threatened” by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and is a Species Survival Plan (SSP) managed species both because of the charismatic nature that makes it popular in zoo exhibits and because of efforts underway to breed Andean Condors for reintroduction to their native habitats. Just 71 Andean Condors currently live in captivity in 36 institutions nationwide, and last year those 71 produced just one chick.
 
Andean Condors form lifelong bonds. They generally lay one to two eggs, although it is uncommon for more than one chick to survive per nesting season. Andean condors generally reproduce only every other year, and chicks remain with their parents for two years until being displaced by the next generation. Andean Condors become mature in 6-8 years and have an average life span of 50-60 years in the wild and up to 70 years in captivity.
 
The National Aviary has had Andean Condors since 1985 with a pair that hatched its first offspring in 2003, a male that was released to the wild in Colombia in 2005. The pair then hatched a female chick in 2007 which was also released to the wild.  A third chick, a female hatched in 2009, was transferred to the Cincinnati Zoo.
 
The National Aviary’s original adult male condor died in 2012, and the very popular female, named Lianni, still resides at the National Aviary. Lianni will be wintering off exhibit to give the new pair their best chance at success. If all goes well, Lianni could move back to her exhibit in the spring and could be joined by a mate scheduled to arrive at the National Aviary in the coming months. The National Aviary is currently seeking funds to upgrade its condor exhibit in 2014. To stay up-to-date with the National Aviary’s Andean Condors and other birds and mammals, follow the National Aviary on Facebook.