Andean condor

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Andean condor
Portrait of a male Andean condor (Vultur gryphus)

Portrait of a male Andean condor ( Vultur gryphus )

Class : Birds (aves)
Order : Birds of prey (Accipitriformes)
Family : New World Vulture (Cathartidae)
Genre : Vultur
Type : Andean condor
Scientific name of the  genus
Linnaeus , 1758
Scientific name of the  species
Vultur gryphus
Linnaeus, 1758

The Andean Condor ( Vultur gryphus ) is a bird art belonging to the Neuweltgeiern counts (Cathartidae). Within this family it forms the monotypical genus Vultur . No subspecies are described.

Male, colored Andean condors are powerful, black birds of prey with clearly white to silvery white hand wings and coverts and a white ruff that separates the bare, reddish-brown head from the body. A bulging comb covers the top of the head. At up to 15 kilograms, they are the heaviest birds of prey and are among the few birds whose wingspan can be over 300 centimeters. Females are smaller, often much lighter, but resemble the males in terms of coloration. Like the dark, dark brown young birds, they have no crest.

The species is distributed in the Andean region of South America from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego . In the north of this large area, which extends over 8000 kilometers in a north-south direction, the occurrences are low, regionally also completely extinct, towards the south the species becomes more common.

Andean condors are mainly scavengers; they nest on rock ledges and platforms, where they usually raise a young every two years. The IUCN estimates the total population at around 10,000 adult birds and lists the species in the early warning level (NT = near threatened). Especially due to intensive hunting since the Spanish Conquista , the population of the species has decreased significantly; In the northern Andean states in particular, the Andean condor has largely disappeared or only exists in small, isolated remnants.

The Andean condor is the heraldic bird of some South American states. Despite its great popularity, much essential data is still missing about its biology.



The Andean condor is unmistakable due to its outstanding size. It is a mighty, massive bird, relatively short-legged for a New World Vulture, with long-fingered, board-like wings that are held almost horizontally when gliding. In the case of colored individuals, the white ruff can also be seen at greater distances; the white wing markings are clearly visible in the upper view. From below, the birds appear dark, undrawn. The broad, unmarked, relatively long tail is rounded to slightly spatulate when it is fanned out.

The basic plumage is shiny black. The white arm wings and white large and middle elytra, as well as the white to slightly gray-white, fluffy, usually slightly open ruff towards the throat stand out clearly. The white wing badges are individually different in strength, mostly they darken both outward and inward silver and in these areas also show extensive black components. The head is largely bare, brown-reddish and clearly veined brown-reddish to purple. Its color saturation increases to reddish with greater excitement, but can also take on bright yellow tones, especially with sexual stimulation. The horn-colored beak is comparatively small and covered by a flesh-colored wax skin up to about the middle of the beak . The stocky feet, which are feathered up to the intertarsal joint, and the weakly clawed toes are gray-brown, but often whitish due to faecal residues. When the bird is sitting, the unmarked, black tail ends roughly with the wing tips. Andean condors do not reach their adult dress before 6–8. Age.

Andean condor female, probably in the 2nd year of life
Andean condor in Peru

The gender dimorphism is not particularly pronounced. Male Andean condors can get a little bigger but much heavier than females. The most noticeable visible gender difference is a fleshy, bulging, slightly erectile crest of the males, which extends like a cap from the occiput to the middle of the beak, and a wrinkled wattled collar below the beak. The beginnings of the crest can already be seen in most juvenile males. Juvenile individuals are dark, largely contourless gray-brown in color, the ruff is slightly lighter than the basic plumage. The still sparsely feathered head is dark brownish, eyes and beak are dark brown. The white wing markings appear from the age of two and become increasingly clear; From the age of four, the ruff changes color very slowly from orange, orange-reddish to white; Around this age, the color of the eyes and beak change, and the male crest and throat pouch are fully developed. The irises of the eyes of adult birds are brown in males and red in females. In the 6th year of life, the basic plumage largely resembles that of the adult Andean condors, but the head color is often still dark and the neck ring is often still reddish-orange.


Since Andean condors, like all other members of the family, do not have a syrinx , the vocalizations are generated by tongue and beak movements as well as by rapid, pressed air expulsion. They are mostly largely silent. During arguments at the feeding place, hoarse gasping and croaking sounds can be heard, and in courtship mood Andean condors utter a row of clicking tok… tok… tok with their beak wide open . When birds are gliding, flight noises can be clearly audible.

Biometric data

As with all record breaking creatures, the weight and span of the Andean condor are often exaggerated. Spans of very large males up to 310 centimeters and a weight of up to 15 kilograms are secured. The total length is between 100 and 122 centimeters. Females are up to 13 percent smaller and up to 60 percent lighter. The quotient of weight and height differences is 26 percent in favor of male individuals.

distribution and habitat

Distribution area of ​​the Andean condor
  • rich orange: largely closed occurrences
  • light orange: rarely to very rarely or pull through
  • orange points: residual occurrence of fewer individuals or regions in which reintroduction programs are in progress

The largely closed distribution area of ​​the species begins today in central Peru and extends to Tierra del Fuego. Outside the Andes, there are small deposits in the Argentine Sierras Pampeanas . In southern Patagonia, the distribution area also reaches the Atlantic coast. In the northern Andean states, Andean condors occur only in a few places and in small numbers. Most of these sporadic occurrences need to be sustained through reintroduction from captive-reared individuals. In the central and southern part of its range, the species is not common, but it is common.

Way of life

Egg, Museum Wiesbaden collection

The breeding season is up to 65 days. Both partners are responsible for the egg. The young are initially fed twice a day, later only once. The young bird fledged after 6 months.

The Andean condor is a scavenger , but it does happen that it tries to force its prey (e.g. cows, mountain goats, sheep) to crash by violently flapping its wings when it is on steep mountain slopes. When the animal has died, the Andean condor can eat its "killed" prey.

Existence and endangerment

Detailed and large-scale studies of population development, reproduction and the causes of mortality are not available. Historical information on the distribution of the species is also largely lacking, but it is assumed that soon after the beginning of the Spanish Conquista, its population density decreased considerably, at least in the centers of immigration. With the intensification of livestock farming and the growing population, this decline accelerated and the species was increasingly pushed into remote high mountain areas. The main reasons for this were hunting, poisoning and trapping, as it was claimed that the Andean condor killed sheep or calves, but occasionally attacked and carried off children. In the second half of the 19th century, guano production intensified on many Peruvian and Chilean sections of the Pacific coast, so that the populations residing there, who mainly feed on young seabirds, eggs and seal carcasses, decimated and in many places, such as on the Paracas Peninsula in Peru, have been wiped out. The condor was and is also hunted by the indigenous population, as many of its body parts and bones are used as medicinal products or for ritual purposes.

The threat from shooting, poisoning and trapping continues, albeit to a much lesser extent, regionally. Poison baits are laid out to kill pumas or foxes, and also poison condors that feed on the carcasses. In addition, there are various disturbances at the breeding site due to increasing trekking and boat tourism. On the other hand, there is a positive environmental awareness that has been sensitized in many places, which initiates regional protective measures, training programs and information for the population. The value of the species as a tourist attraction is also increasingly recognized. The reintroduction programs that are running in some states can support residual populations to the point that they do not die out completely; So far, they only seem to have had sustained success in Colombia .

Today the total population of the Andean condor is estimated to be around 10,000 reproductive individuals, the vast majority of which breed south of 15 ° south latitude. In Venezuela, especially in the Mérida area, there are fewer than 30 - in Colombia there are now more than 180 adult birds. The number of condors is still falling sharply in Ecuador , where the release programs are also encountering resistance. Only the populations in the southernmost distribution areas seem to be fairly stable, in all other areas the population of the Andean condor is still decreasing. A larger study of birds of prey in the densely populated metropolitan region of Chile shows a declining population of condors, citing persecution, lack of food and loss of habitat as the reasons.


Individual evidence

  1. a b data sheet BirdLife international engl.
  2. Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) p. 313
  3. a b c Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) p. 314
  4. ^ Andean Condor. Smithsonian National Zoological Park , October 9, 2007, archived from the original on October 9, 2007 ; accessed on May 31, 2014 .
  5. Claus König: The systematic position of the Cathartidae
  6. Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) p. 88
  7. a b c Global Raptor Information engl.
  8. Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001) p. 315
  9. Sergio A. Lambertucci and Karina L. Speziale (2009): Some possible anthropogenic threats to breeding Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus) In: J. Raptor Res. 43 (3): 245-249.
  10. Fabian M. Jaksic et al. : The Conservation Status of Raptors in the Metropolitan Region, Chile. In: J. Raptor Res. 35 (2), 2001, 151-158. P. 153

Web links

Commons : Andean condor ( Vultur gryphus )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files