Vultur – Andean condor

The largest and heaviest raptor in the world

One of the most iconic birds of prey in South America, recognized for its grandeur and significance in many Andean cultures. This magnificent bird is a member of the vulture family Cathartidae and is known for its enormous wingspan, one of the largest of any land bird, which enables it to glide effortlessly along the mountain ranges and coastlines it calls home.

Adult Andean condors are primarily black, with stark white feathering around the collar. Males are distinguishable by a prominent caruncle or comb on their heads, which becomes more pronounced with age. Unlike males, females lack the large comb and have a more subdued appearance. The bald head of the condor, which can flush or change color in response to emotional states, is not just for show—it’s an adaptation for hygiene, allowing the bird to stay clean despite its scavenging habits, as it prevents feathers from becoming matted with blood and other substances when the bird is feeding.

Their diet consists almost exclusively of carrion, and their hooked beaks are perfectly designed for tearing into flesh. This scavenging lifestyle serves an important ecological function by disposing of dead animals and helping prevent disease spread.

Andean condors utilize thermal currents to stay aloft with minimal effort, conserving energy as they search vast areas for food. They can travel over 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) daily. Such an impressive range is crucial for a scavenger that may need to find widely dispersed food sources in the harsh environments of the Andes and the coastal regions.

Despite their majesty and ecological importance, Andean condors are classified as Vulnerable, with their population experiencing a rapid decline. This decline is attributed to several factors: secondary poisoning from carcasses laced with toxins intended for other animals, collisions with power lines, and lead poisoning from ingesting spent ammunition left in hunting games.