The Andean condor is a huge bird that is among the largest in the world capable of flight. Given its heavy weight (up to 15 kilograms), even its massive wingspan (3 meters) needs some help to keep it aloft. For this reason, these birds prefer to live in windy areas, where they can glide on air currents without great effort. Andean condors live in mountainous areas, as their name suggests, but also near the coasts, where sea breezes abound, and even in deserts with strong thermal air currents.
These condors are usually black but have a characteristic white "collar", as well as some markings of the same color on their wings. Like their relatives, the Californian condors, the Andean ones sport bald heads.
Condors are vultures; That is why their accurate eyes are always on the lookout for carrion, which makes up most of their diet. They prefer to feed on large animals, whether wild or domesticated and by consuming their bodies they do an important job as sweepers of nature. On the coast, condors feed on dead marine animals, such as seals or fish. These birds lack the sharp claws of predators, but they can raid nests in search of eggs or even chicks.
These long-lived birds have survived more than 75 years in captivity, but they reproduce slowly. Each breeding pair only has one calf every two years, and both parents must care for it for an entire year.
The Andean condor is a predominantly black bird, with white feathers around the neck and in the terminal parts of the wings. The head is featherless and has a hue ranging from red to brown. It measures about 142 centimeters in height and reaches 330 centimeters in wingspan. Unlike most birds of prey, the male is larger than the female.
This large bird possesses a great sense of smell, an unusual characteristic in birds. It can live for more than 50 years in freedom and up to 80 in captivity.
It plays an important role in nature because, being a carnivorous bird of the scavenger-ghoul type, it eliminates organic remains from the ecosystem that can become infectious sources associated with the putrefaction of animals.
Since ancient times, the condor has been an important animal in the mythology and traditions of the Andean world, which is why it is represented in cultures such as Chavín, Paracas, Nasca, Wari, and Tiahuanaco, among others.
The Incas considered the condor immortal and therefore represented the Hanan paccha, the land above, the sky, and the future.
In more recent times, the condor has starred in festivities in Andean peasant communities such as the "Yawar Fiesta" in which it is tied to the back of a bull that struggles to get rid of its presence.
These extraordinary birds reproduce, have their nests, and live in high Andean areas that are difficult to access generally mountainous and rugged areas. They usually fly alone or in small groups and despite their large size it is not common to see them soaring through the skies.
However, there are certain places in Peru where it is possible to observe the majestic flight of the condor. One of them is the Mirador Cruz del Cóndor, located 4,160 meters above sea level, in the Colca Valley, in the Arequipa region.
In Cusco, the most frequent place for the sighting of condors is the Mirador de Chonta. This is also known as the Sanctuary of the Condors. It is located at more than 3,400 meters altitude. It is one of the best known viewpoints and many tourists travel to the area just to see these incredible birds. The best of all is the beautiful high Andean landscape that can be appreciated when arriving at the viewpoint.
Other regions where it is possible to appreciate the flight of the condor are Amazonas, Ayacucho, Apurímac, Cajamarca, Huancavelica, Moquegua, Tacna and Puno.
The Andean condor faces various threats: as it is a bird with a low population by nature, with very wide ranges of action and low reproductive rates, the viability of its population is a real concern. Their sporadic attacks on domestic livestock have contributed to a poor image and consequently, there have been cases of illegal carrion poisoning and lead contamination from hunting. This, added to its unregulated use for handicrafts and bullfights during the Yawar Fiesta, in addition to the effects that are seen by climate change, aggravates their situation.
In Peru, the Andean condor is a species categorized as endangered. On an international scale, it is protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and by the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), of which Peru is a member.
The objective is to recover the presence of the Andean condor in the Peruvian territory, and its main components are to generate information on its population status and ecological aspects for proper management; strengthen the capacities of the authorities to conserve the species, and sensitize the population.
The Andean condor is a threatened species, but its situation is much better than that of its California cousin. There are currently several thousand South American condors in the wild, and reintroduction programs are working to increase their numbers.