We're celebrating Vulture Week because this Saturday, September 6th, marks International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). This commemorative day has been celebrated since at least 2009 and aims to highlight the importance of vultures and vulture conservation through education.
The Andean Condor is one of two types of condor, along with the California Condor. Both of these fall under the family Cathartidae, or New World Vulture. The Andean Condor is one of the world's largest flying birds, with a wingspan that may measure over 10 feet across. Among vultures found in the Americas, the Andean Condor is the only species to show sexual dimorphism. This means that males and females have a different appearance. Mature male Andean Condors have a large fleshy comb resting atop the head, which is reddish. Adult females have dark, uncombed heads. In most birds of prey, females are larger than males, but the Andean Condor defies this rule; males are larger than females.
Male Andean Condor by Eric Kilby (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Like most other vulture species, the Andean Condor feeds primarily on carrion. They may travel 100 miles or more in a day in search of food, which includes the carcasses of large mammals like llamas, deer, cattle, and boar. Andean Condors are excellent at soaring using rising columns of hot air called thermals. Andean Condors can be found along the western mountain ranges of South America, including the Andes and the Santa Marta Mountains. Their range overlaps with other New World vulture species, and they may follow Turkey Vultures, Lesser Yellow-headed and Greater Yellow-headed Vultures to carcasses.
andean condor by vil.sandi (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The Andean Condor is a national symbol for several South American countries, including Bolivia, where it is the official national bird. Condors were revered in Andean mythology and is sometimes considered to be a symbol of power and health. Andean Condors mate for life. They reach full maturity after five or six years and may live to be 50 years old or more in the wild; a captive condor lived to be at least 72 years of age. Pairs typically raise one chick every other year. The population trend for the Andean Condor is decreasing, and the IUCN Red List considers the species to be Near Threatened. They face challenges from habitat loss, secondary poisoning, persecution, and other man-made threats.
The California Condor has been selected as Audubon California's Bird of the Year for 2011. The endangered species won the title after receiving nearly 35% of the almost 10,000 votes cast in the annual election. The condor beat out the Black Oystercatcher, Western Snowy Plover, Sandhill Crane, and three other species.
The California Condor is a critically endangered species that was down to just 22 wild birds in the late 1980's. These birds were captured and bred as part of a captive breeding program that continues to see limited but steady success. Today there are over 180 California Condors living in the wild. One totally unnecessary threat still facing California Condors is lead poisoning. If hunters would universally adopt lead-free ammunition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that the California Condor recovery program "would [be] wildly successful." Unfortunately, lead-riddled carcasses limit the species' rebound. The California Condor's reign at Audubon California Bird of the Year 2011 highlights the plight of these special birds.
International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) is coming up this Saturday, September 3rd. We continue to highlight vultures this week with a special Baby Birdorable post! If you think our Birdorable birds are cute as adults, what about when they are babies? Here are some baby photos of the California Condor. Yes, California Condors are amazing creatures and even cute, especially as down-covered babies. And what could be more precious than a baby of such a critically endangered species? California Condor clutch size is always one egg. Both parents participate in incubation of the egg, which lasts about 57 days, and in caring for the chick.
For 18 days we're adding a new Birdorable bird every day as part of our Birdorable Bonanza 2010. Today's bird is the endangered Andean Condor! Andean Condors are large birds that live in western parts of South America. They are among the largest flying birds, with a massive wingspan which may exceed ten feet! Andean Condors have relatively featherless heads, like other birds in the condor and vulture families. Males sport fleshy combs on the top of their heads and a wattle of skin on the neck. Both sexes sport a white fluffy neck "cowl."
Yes, vultures can be cute - our Birdorable vultures prove just that! Although vultures may be known for eating dead things, using projectile vomit as a defense measure and even cooling themselves by urinating on their own legs, these carrion-eating baldies aren't all about the ick-factor. For example:
The Egyptian Vulture is one of the few species of bird to use tools. It will lift small rocks in its beak and smash them into ostrich eggs to crack the hard shell. Clever birds!
While Lammergeiers don't use tools, they do have a clever way to get at their favorite food. They will drop large bones while flying in order to crack them into pieces. With clever strategies like that, who needs tools?!
Several vulture species lack vocal organs so they are only able to hiss or grunt. No screaming banshees here!
Several species including the Turkey Vulture are extremely gregarious. Birds will roost in large community groups which may include several hundred individuals. The vulture's motto: We Are Fa-mi-ly!
California Condors are especially fastidious and may spend hours a day preening their feathers. Beauty queens!
Courting Turkey Vultures will gather in a circle to perform hopping movements around the perimeter, with wings spread. Yes, they put on the dance moves to attract a sweetheart!
The Rüppell's Vulture holds the height record for avian flight, with the ability to fly up to an altitude of 37,000 feet. These birds have their place in the avian extreme games!
Vultures often remain inactive until the sun has warmed up the air with sufficient thermals to support soaring. These sleepyheads need the sun to get going on their day's work. I know some people like that!
The Palm-nut Vulture is so named because its favorite food is the nut of the Oil Palm tree. A veg-loving vulture!
The Cinereous Vulture is also known as the Monk Vulture, because its ruff of neck feathers resembles a monk's cowl. Even vultures get funny nicknames.
Often vultures gorge so much they can’t fly. Vultures know how to pig out, and they aren't afraid to do it!
The Turkey Vulture can glide for over six hours without flapping a wing. Another extreme avian sports contender, category: endurance.
California Condors and several other vulture species mate for life. How romantic!
The Hooded Vulture is abundant through most of its range and is usually unafraid of humans. They are sometimes called "garbage collectors" by locals. In fact all vultures are nature's original waste managers!
Like many wildlife species vultures have suffered from loss of habitat and illegal hunting. Several vulture species have suffered up to a 99% population decrease in India and neighboring countries due to poisoning from livestock pharmaceuticals.
That last trivia point is not actually one of our favorites, but it is an unfortunate fact. Today is International Vulture Awareness Day 2009, which promotes vulture conservation. This post is part of the Blog for Vultures carnival coinciding with IVAD09. Learn more about vultures, vulture conservation and awareness by visiting the other participants in today's virtual event. Click on the nifty badge below to learn more!
This video from the Ventana Wildlife Society gives an update on the 2009 nesting season for the endangered California Condors they monitor.
You can help the society by volunteering to help clean up the condor habitat or by making a donation. A portion of proceeds from some of our own Birdorable California Condor sales will also be donated to the Ventana Wildlife Society.