The first time I saw an Andean condor, the word “thunderbird’ kept echoing in my mind. It looked like a majestic creature from another world, a god among animals– but here it was, wings clipped, spirit broken, cramped into a tiny cage at a roadside menagerie. The Andean condor is one of the most amazing animals to grace our planet, but it receives tragically little attention from casual conservationists. As citizens of this planet, we owe it to the Andean condor to educate ourselves about its plight and to do everything we can to preserve it. Here are some fascinating facts about the amazing and increasingly rare Andean condor.
1. The Andean condor is the largest flying bird in existence. Although larger birds existed in ancient history, the Andean condor is the last of the massive birds to survive into the modern era. With a wingspan measuring up to eleven feet, the Andean condor makes even bald eagles look diminutive.
2. Andean condors are among the longest-living birds. Andean condors have impressively long life expectancies, averaging a century or more in captivity. Good nutrition, expansive habitat, and proper diet can increase their lifespan even more. Biologists don’t know how long the animals tend to live in the wild, since few have been tracked for extensive periods of time.
3. Despite the similarity in name, the Andean condor isn’t particularly closely related to its American cousin. These birds share the name “condor” with the California condor, which is endemic to North America. Both animals are classified as New World vultures, but are not members of the same genus, and not shared a common ancestor since the Plio-Pleistocene era. Like other New World vultures, both types of condor are actually more closely related to storks than it is to vultures from Europe, Africa, and Asia.
4. Andean condors are perfectly adapted to life as scavengers. An Andean condor’s head is almost completely featherless to make scavenging in carcasses easier. They have powerful stomachs capable of safely digesting decayed or partially decayed meat, and curved beaks that make it easier to tear flesh. Occasionally, they may eat living prey or eggs, but their diet consists primarily of animals that have already deceased.
5. The Andean condor is considered “near threatened.” This means that, while the species is not actively or perilously endangered, a mild population drop (due to disease, hunting, or habitat loss) could put it squarely into the “endangered” category. Right now, the biggest threats to the Andean condor are poisoning by humans, who might poison carcasses in an attempt to kill both condors (under the misguided belief that they target living livestock) and other local predators that may attack farm animals. However, the Andean condor’s impressive longevity makes it especially resilient to most common threats.
To learn more about the Andean condor, its role in the environment, and threats against the species, visit its information page from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.