The Andean Condor is Part of the Vulture Family

The Andean Condor is one of the largest members of the vulture family. This unique bird is one of the largest birds on Earth that's capable of flying.

Rare and Difficult to Spot
The Andean Condor is a scavenger bird that lives in South America. As the name would imply, Andean Condors are residents of the Andes Mountains, as well as adjacent areas of the South American Pacific Coast. It's a national symbol of several South American countries, and is culturally significant to the Andean regions. Unfortunately, the Andean Condor is considered endangered, and captive breeding programs are in place to help increase the bird's population levels.

The Andean Condor is one of the largest birds capable of sustaining flight. Adults can weigh up to 33 pounds with wingspans of up to 10 feet across. Adult condors are black, with a characteristic white ring around the neck and occasional white patches or bands on the wing. These birds have few feathers on their necks and heads.

One of the most interesting features in these condors is the folds of the neck. The skin on the neck and head actually changes color, depending on the condor's emotional state. Andean Condors use these color changes to communicate.

Important Scavengers
While some people find vultures, and scavengers in general, to be distasteful, the truth is that they perform a useful and necessary ecological function. Andean Condors feed on carrion and prefer large mammals. These condors help to pick carcasses clean and maintain the natural biological cycle. The endangerment of these scavenger birds is a serious concern, and reintroduction programs are in place to help increase their numbers and return them to their role in the Andean ecosystem.

Unique Flight Patterns
Andean Condors are some of the most interesting birds to watch, because their flight patterns are unique in the avian world. Due in part to their tremendous size, Andean Condors don't fly so much as float aloft on thermals air currents. Andean Condors use thermals to hover, rarely flapping their wings. These birds prefer to call high areas home, such as tall trees near rocky areas and cliff-sides. As the sun heats up the rocks below, thermal currents rise, allowing these birds to expend a minimum of energy to get and stay aloft.

Andean Condors also have extremely long lifespans for the avian family. These condors may live up to 50 years in the wild, and up to 75 years in captivity. Because it is such a long-lived bird, it doesn't reach sexual maturity until five or six years of age. Andean Condors mate for life and generally produce a single egg, which gestates for nearly two months. The young condor stays with the parents until it is approximately two years old, at which point it leaves the nest and the breeding pair produces another egg.

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