Andean Condor

Andean Condor Photo
Andean condors are scavengers that are well-equipped for the job, with hooked beaks to aid in tearing flesh from large carcasses, a high resistance to bacterial infections, and bald heads that promote hygiene.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The Andean condor, one of the largest birds in the world in the world, is the official symbol of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. On wings that span up to 10 feet, the birds range throughout the Andes Mountains, Patagonia, and the coastal regions of western South America, in habitats including high peaks, lowland deserts, and grassy plains. They roost on high rock ledges, where updrafts are strong enough to lift their heavy bodies.

Andean condors are scavengers that are well-equipped for the job, with hooked beaks to aid in tearing flesh from large carcasses, a high resistance to bacterial infections, and bald heads that promote hygiene. They may travel up to 150 miles a day in search of carrion, which they locate primarily by sight. Once condors reach high altitudes, they ride on thermal currents and seldom flap their wings.

The birds are a source of national pride across South America and play a prominent role in folklore and cultural mythology. They have been represented in Andean art since 2500 BC. The Incas believed the condor brought the sun into the sky every morning and was a messenger to the gods.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameVultur gryphus
  • These birds live up to 70 years in captivity.
  • Their reproductive rate is very low, and they raise just one fledgling every two years.
  • The condor’s head and neck are nearly featherless and red, and may change hues in response to the bird’s emotional state.
  • Condors have traditionally been viewed as a symbol of power, health, and liberty.
  • Andean condors are one of the heaviest flying birds in the world.

Challenges

Andean condors are both revered and feared, and, despite their symbolic role in South American cultures, are often treated as human competitors. As a result of habitat loss, mortality resulting from preying on poisoned carcasses, collision with power lines, and hunting by people who believe the birds attack livestock, they are declining in numbers, especially in the northern part of their range. In Patagonia, their area of distribution has decreased dramatically in the last hundred years. The IUCN lists Andean condors as near threatened.

WCS Responds

Working with the government of Chile, WCS helped establish the Karukinka reserve to protect habitats in the country’s Patagonia region, including the domain of the Andean condor. WCS conservationists also protect the condor’s habitat in the Andean Patagonia Steppe landscape of Argentina, working alongside provincial governments to manage reserves, helping livestock herders reduce their impacts on the land, and partnering with oil and mining companies to ensure that their operations take wildlife needs into account.

Since the early 1990s, WCS has worked to help local Bolivian communities practice sustainable natural resource management in the country’'s Madidit-Tambopata landscape, a 42,500-square mile stronghold for condors as well as populations of jaguars, Andean bears, and giant otters. Here, WCS scientists monitor the wildlife populations and are working to develop transboundary conservation plans that encompass the landscape’s borders in northern Bolivia and southern Peru. WCS is also helping educate the rural communities of Madidi about the lack of condor menace to livestock and to develop cost-effective conservation tools that prevent or minimize human-wildlife conflicts.

WCS Projects

Sustaining biological and cultural diversity in Bolivia

Bolivia’s Madidi-Tambopata landscape has a wide range of altitudes as well as a high diversity of ecosystems and peoples. WCS works to conserve its cultural and biological heritage via initiatives that improve land-use and livelihoods.

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