What is a Condor?

The Andean Condor Bird (Vultur gryphus) and the California Condor Bird (Gymnogyps californianus), two large New World vultures, are two of the largest Condor Vultures. Male Andean condors have been known to have wingspans of up to 3.2 metres (10.5 feet), while adult California condors average 2.9 metres (9.5 feet). Each has a body length of about 1.2 metres (4 feet) from beak to tail. Male Andean Condors can weigh up to 15 kg (33 pounds), whereas female Andean Condors and California condors of both sexes can weigh up to 11 kg (24 pounds).


The magnificent but endangered California Condor is North America's largest species. These amazing gliders fly far and wide to feed on deer, pigs, goats, sea lions, whales, and other animals' carcasses. These birds build their nests in caves high on cliff faces. In the 1980s, the population was down to just 22 birds, but there are now 230 free-flying birds in California, Arizona, and Baja California, plus another 160 in captivity. Long-term prospects are also jeopardised by lead poisoning.


Despite living in different parts of the world — the desert Southwest versus the Andes — these birds have a lot in common. Both are scavengers that feed on the carcasses of dead animals, typically medium to large in size. Both have a reputation for being long-lived. Unfortunately, both are endangered by humans, including lead poisoning (from expended ammunition), habitat destruction, and hunting in some places.


Condor Bird Size

Both of these condor vultures are huge, broad-winged soaring birds, with the Andean condor being 5 cm shorter on average (beak to tail) than the northern species, but heavier and with a greater wingspan. California condors are the world's largest flying land birds. The Andean condor is the third largest of all living flying birds, after the Kori and great bustards (up to 21 kg) and second only to the wandering albatross (up to 3.5 m) in terms of wingspan.


With the exception of a frill of white feathers nearly covering the base of the neck, which the bird meticulously cleans, the adult plumage is uniformly black. The condor's head and neck have few feathers as an adaptation for hygiene, exposing the skin to the sterilising effects of dehydration and solar ultraviolet radiation at high altitudes. The top of the head is very flattened. It is crowned with a caruncle or comb in the male, and the skin of the male's neck is folded into a wattle. The skin of the head and neck will flush visibly in response to emotional states, allowing individuals to interact with one another.


Andean Condor

The male Andean condor has a black body, greyish white wing feathers, a white neck fringe, and a bare red or pinkish head, neck, and crop. On the forehead and top of the beak, males have a big caruncle, or fleshy protuberance, as well as turkey-like neck wattles. The species is found in South America's Andes Mountains, where it prefers open country and feeds on carcasses. The Andean condor soars on thermals and upslope winds to stay aloft while searching for prey and can glide for more than 160 kilometres (100 miles) without flapping its wings. It descends to the Pacific coast of Peru and Chile, where it feeds on dead marine animals such as seals and fish.


Condors of the Andes are uncommon in northern South America, but they are common in the southern part of their range. Around 6,700 adult Andean condors remain, and the species is listed as near endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).


If the hatchling dies, the pair will breed every other year unless the hatchling dies, in which case the pair will breed the following year. The young are raised without nesting material on remote ledges and caves at altitudes above 3,000 metres (10,000 feet). The white egg is approximately 12 cm (4.5 inches) in length.


California Condor

Adult California condors are mainly black, with bright white wing linings and a reddish-orange head, collar, and crop. Young birds have a dark head that gradually turns red when they approach adulthood, which occurs at about the age of six. They forage in open areas and eat nothing but carrion. Condors in California build their nests in cliffs, under large rocks, and other natural cavities, such as redwood tree holes. Every other year, they lay a single unmarked greenish-white egg that measures about 11 cm (4 inches) in length.


The California condor is on the verge of extinction. Just 20 remained in the wild by 1982, prompting attempts to create a captive breeding flock in zoos. The wild population began to decrease due to unnecessary mortality from lead poisoning and shooting, and the last free-flying survivor was captured and brought into protective captivity in 1987. In 1988, the first successful captive breeding occurred, and in 1992, several captive progenies were released into the wild. By mid-2006, the total California condor population had grown to 289, including 138 wild birds in southern and central California, northern Arizona, and northern Baja California, Mexico, thanks to these conservation efforts. The first captive-raised condor egg hatched in the wild in 2002, and by mid-2010, 44 adults had developed viable offspring in the wild. By 2020, the wild population had grown to over 300, with another 200 in captivity.


Difference Between an Andean Condor and California Condor

They both belong to the vulture family and are fierce competitors. The Andean condor has keen vision and can spot its prey from a great distance. California condors can also travel for longer periods of time in any weather to a variety of locations. Since they are both equally skilled in competing against each other, determining the winner is difficult.

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Diet

Condor vultures are scavengers that feed on the carcasses of large mammals such as cattle and deer, much like other vultures. When a large meal is available, the birds can overeat to the point of needing to rest for several hours before flying again. Condors may travel hundreds of miles a day in search of food, but they spend the majority of their time in their roost preening, sunning, and grooming.


Habitat

The birds once inhabited a vast range that stretched as far east as Florida and New York, according to fossil records. They now occupy only a small portion of that range, possibly due to the extinction of the vast prehistoric herds that once roamed the continent before Europeans arrived. Condors now mainly inhabit the deserts of central and southern California, where they roost on rocky cliffs. Populations can also be found in Arizona, Utah, and Mexico.


Behavior

California Condors can fly hundreds of miles in a single flight, searching for carrion for hours at a time. During the breeding season, these long-distance travellers form pairs, but they are highly social at roosting, bathing, and feeding sites, where individuals know one another. Condors are not hostile against one another in general, but dominant birds will attack opponents by standing upright, inflating air sacs in the head and neck, opening the bill, and lunging toward the opponent. Monogamy exists within pairs. They almost evenly split nesting duties, stay together all year, and usually live until one of them dies. Coordinated pair flights, shared preening, and displays are all part of courtship. Condors do not nest in consecutive years because their young are dependent on their parents for at least 6 months after fledging. Condors bathe regularly, and mates and chicks assist each other in grooming their feathers and skin. After feeding, they clean up by rubbing their heads and necks against a nearby rock or other surfaces. Condors sun themselves to help dry their feathers and warm up before taking off. Condors roost in cliff potholes, on horizontal branches of tall trees, or on ledges. Condors sleep by tucking their heads behind their shoulder blades and lying prone on their perch. Condors are rarely hunted by other species, except humans and sometimes Golden Eagles, due to their size; however, nestlings and eggs are vulnerable to Common Ravens, Golden Eagles, and black bears. Condors play, particularly as late-stage nestlings, imitating the capture of various objects and vegetation while leaping about in apparent exuberance.


Nesting

Condors usually build their nests in natural cavities or caves in cliffs, but they often use trees like coast redwood and, historically, the giant sequoia. (There's a chance they'll return to the sequoia groves as the wild population grows.) Condors have several nesting sites and can change them from year to year. Females make the final decision on where to build their nest.


Condors either lay their eggs directly on the dirt floor of a cliff ledge or cave, or they build loose debris piles out of whatever is available at the nest site, such as gravel, leaves, bark, and bones. Nests are normally about 3 feet long and up to 8 inches wide, with ill-defined boundaries.


Threats to Survival 

Condor populations in California have been declining since European settlements started to spread throughout North America. These birds have been on the endangered species list in the United States since 1967, and they were on the verge of extinction when their captive-breeding programme began.


Condors were accidentally ingesting bits of lead-based ammunition when scavenging on hunted animal carcasses, which was a significant cause of lead poisoning. Pesticides, which thin their already-fragile egg shells, are also a problem for condors, as is illegal egg collection.


Condors in California often take a long time to mature and reproduce. They don't start breeding until they're between the ages of six and eight, and the female-only lays one egg every two years. However, if that egg is removed, she will lay a second or third.


Conservation

Conservation organisations initiated a full-scale campaign to save the California condor from extinction in 1980. Scientists started collecting eggs for captive incubation after learning that removing the first egg makes female condors more likely to lay a second or third egg. Some birds were also sent to zoos to be raised in captivity. When there were less than ten condors left in the wild, it was decided to bring them all in for captive breeding. There were just 27 condors left in the world in 1987 when the last wild bird was brought into captivity.


The breeding programmes in captivity were a huge success. The reintroduction of California condors started in 1992, thanks to the efforts of several organisations and individuals. The condor population had increased to 161 by the end of the decade.


Condors in California are also critically endangered. Despite the fact that numbers have increased to about 300 species, populations remain low, and many birds continue to perish due to accidents. Condors are particularly vulnerable to power lines, and they do best in areas with low human population density.


California banned the use of lead ammunition in 2013, addressing the condor's greatest threat. Conservationists are optimistic that the legislation, which took effect in 2019, would have a positive impact on the California condor's future.


Interference Between Individual Condors

Individual condors of the same species can battle and evict each other. A dominance hierarchy based on height, sex, and age was discovered in a study of Andean Condors at carcasses. Male condors outnumbered female condors regardless of age, weighing 36-37 percent more than female condors. Furthermore, older birds dominated younger birds within each sex group. Adult male condors were at the top of the dominance pyramid, while juvenile female condors were at the bottom.


Juvenile females preferred to avoid foraging in the mountains where food was more available and interactions with males and older females were more likely because males and older females replaced juvenile females at carcasses. Instead, they preferred to forage on the plains, where they were less likely to find food but more likely to avoid encounters with males and older females once they did. Males and adult females tended to forage in the mountains, which were abundant in food.


A single analysis yielded slightly different findings. They discovered that while male Andean Condors normally displaced female condors of the same age at carcasses, individual females displaced males who were more than a year younger on occasion.


Why Condors are Endangered

Since so many condors have been shot and poisoned by humans, there are fewer condors today than there were at the turn of the nineteenth century. Many condors die as a result of collisions with overhead electrical power lines.


Poisoning is often caused by two things: 

(1) lead bullets found in the carrion of animals killed with firearms, and 

(2) poisons designed to destroy predators including coyotes, wolves, pumas, and bears.

Condors sometimes consume spent lead along with the meat when they eat animals shot with lead bullets or lead shot by hunters. Since condors have no natural methods for extracting lead from their bodies, the amount of lead in their bodies accumulates over time. The condors eventually die because the lead concentrations are too high.


California Condors died so often from lead poisoning in the 1980s that the government rescued the last remaining individuals for captive breeding, despite the fact that there was no realistic way to protect the condors from the poisoning (Bessinger 2002). Some of the captured condors and their captive-bred young were released back into the wild beginning in the 1990s and continuing until now, in the hopes of establishing new, viable populations.


Aside from the unnatural and inexperienced behaviour of young, captive-reared condors, the restoration of condor populations is jeopardised. Since their parents never taught them how to live in the real world outside of the zoos where they were raised, some of these overly-tame birds approach humans without fear when released into the wild.


Cool Facts

  • California Condors were discovered all over North America in the late Pleistocene, around 40,000 years ago. Giant mammals roamed the continent at the time, providing condors with a steady source of food. Condors were discovered in the Pacific Northwest by Lewis and Clark in 1805. They were common in the mountains of Baja California until the 1930s.

  • The exceptionally slow reproductive rate of California Condors is one explanation for their slow recovery. Condor females only lay one egg per nesting attempt, and they do not always nest per year. For more than a year, children depend on their parents, and it takes 6-8 years for them to mature.

  • Condors travel slowly and stably across the sky. They fly at around 30 mph on average and can reach speeds of over 40 mph. In soaring flight, they take about 16 seconds to complete a loop. Bald and Golden Eagles, on the other hand, circle in 12–14 seconds, while Red-tailed Hawks circle in 8–10 seconds.

  • California Condors outnumber other scavengers at carcasses. The only time this does not apply is when a Golden Eagle is present. Despite the fact that the condor weighs about twice as much as an eagle, the eagle's superior talons demand respect.

  • Condors will go for up to two weeks without food. When they come across a carcass, they eat it all and store up to 3 pounds of meat in their crop (a section of the esophagus) before leaving.

  • California is a state in the United States Condors used to hunt on offshore islands, stopping by mammalian and seabird colonies to consume carrion, larvae, and probably live prey including nestlings.

  • Condors lift their neck feathers to stay warm in cold weather. Condors (and other vultures) urinate onto a leg in hot weather. When waste evaporates, blood flowing in the leg cools, lowering the overall body temperature. Condors bathe daily, which helps to prevent waste accumulation on their legs.

  • Adult condors will often control an overly enthusiastic nestling by putting their foot on its neck and clamping it to the ground. An adult will also use this forceful method to separate a nestling's bill from its throat at the end of a meal.

  • It might take months for Young to perfect his flight and landings. Four months after their first flight, young have been observed making "crash" landings.

  • California Condors will live to be 60 years old or more, but none of the condors alive today are older than 40.

  • What is the significance of a name? The word "condor" comes from the Inca word "cuntur," which means "andean condor." Gymnogyps californianus is derived from the Greek words gymnos, which refers to the head, and gyps, which refers to the vulture; californianus is Latin and refers to the birds' range.

Conclusion

Condors are vultures, so they keep an eye out for carrion, which makes up the majority of their diet. They like to eat large animals, both wild and domesticated, and by picking up the carcasses, they serve as a natural clean-up team. Condors can feed on dead marine animals such as seals or fish along the coasts. Although these birds lack predatory claws, they may attack bird nests for eggs or young hatchlings. These long-living birds have lived in captivity for over 75 years, but they reproduce slowly. Every other year, a mating pair develops only one offspring, and both parents must care for their young for a full year. While the Andean condor is endangered, it is in much better condition than its California counterpart. These South American birds are being reintroduced as part of reintroduction programmes.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is a Condor Animal?

Ans: Condor is not an animal but a vulture. The word "condor" comes from the Inca word "cuntur," which means "andean condor." Gymnogyps californianus is derived from the Greek words gymnos, which refers to the head, and gyps, which refers to the vulture; californianus is Latin and refers to the birds' range.

2. What is the Difference Between an Andean Condor and California Condor?

Ans: They are both vulture family members and intense competitors. The Andean condor has excellent vision and can detect its prey from afar. California condors can also fly to a number of locations for longer periods of time in any weather. It's difficult to choose a winner because they're both equally skilled at competing against each other.

3. Is a Condor a Vulture or Eagle?

Ans: Condors belong to the Cathartidae family, which also includes New World vultures, while Old World vultures belong to the Accipitridae family, which also includes hawks, eagles, and kites. Vultures from the New and Old Worlds descended from various ancestors.