Saturday, 2 February 2013

Andean Condor

order : Falconiformes      Genus & Species : Cathartidae     Family : Vultur gryphus

Hanging like a huge kite on the breeze, the condor performs the role of “undertaker” in its bleak homeland, locating carcasses far below and swooping down to tear into them. The Andean condor’s huge wing area allows it to soar on air currents, and its dense plumage keeps it warm at high altitudes. They found in the Andes mountains of western South America, over the grasslands of Argentina south of the Rio Negro and on the coasts of Peru and Chile. 

Habitat : The Andean condor is native to the Andes mountain chain that extends north to south along the entire length of western South America, but also can be found over the coasts of Peru and Chile and the Patagonian steppe of Argentina. Wheeling and soaring over high mountains, windswept upland plains and lowland desert areas, the condor looks for signs of other scavengers gathering over carrion. It avoids forests, where locating carcasses and landing is difficult for such a broad-winged bird. Although the Andean condor doesn’t migrate seasonally, it covers huge areas while foraging. It relies on its superb soaring abilities to carry it at high altitudes back to its roosting site each evening. The condor tends to roost and nest on the faces of high cliffs, where few predators can gain access to its eggs and from where it can launch itself easily into the air. 
Food & Feeding : The condor scans the ground for carcasses, but often follows other scavengers, such as smaller vulture species.This benefits lesser vultures — only the condor (with its huge, hooked beak) can rip open the tough skin of some carcasses. Condors and other vultures feed in order of age seniority; each thrusts its head into the carcass for pieces of flesh to gobble down. The condor feeds mainly on the carrion of mammals such as sheep, cattle and llamas. In coastal areas, it pecks at beached whale carcasses, patrols seal rookeries for casualties and afterbirths and even raids seabird colonies for eggs. 
Behavior : The condor usually roosts on cliff faces because it needs thermals (warm air currents) and cliffside updrafts to carry it aloft. It waits for the morning sun to heat the land and create the thermals and basks until its organs and flight muscles are warmed. When conditions are right for flight, it launches into the buoyant updrafts. When feeding on hot days from a carcass, the condor absorbs reflected heat from the ground. To stay cool, it radiates excess body heat through loose skin folds on its naked head and deficates on its legs. Back up on high, thick body plumage keeps it warm and it draws its head into its snug, downy neck ruff. 
Breeding : The condor breeds every other year, and even then only when enough carrion is available to feed the chick. Once paired, however, condors remain together for life. The nest site is usually situated high on a sheer cliff face, in a small cave or recessed ledge. The female lays a single, white egg on bare rock and both parents share the task of incubation.When the chick hatches, adults feed it partly digested flesh, passing it from bill to bill. As the chick grows, it learns to help itself from food offerings dropped by adults in the nesting area.The juvenile takes six months to fledge and depends on its parents for many more months before becoming independent. 

Bill : The stout, hooked bill is used for tearing into tough hide and flesh. 
Head : The head is bare, since feathers would be soiled by blood. Loose folds of skin aid heat loss at ground level; a ruff of downy feathers keeps the naked head warm in cold air at high altitudes. 
Wings : Huge, broad wings let the condor sail over its range. Slotted wingtips adjust “trim,” like an airplane’s flaps. After a full day in the air, the feathers may bend slightly, but a night’s rest and the morning sun help straighten them. 
Tail : Broad, fan-shaped tail is spread out and used as a rudder when soaring. 

Weight : Male 24–33 lbs., female 18– 24 lbs. 
Length : 3-4'
Wingspan : 10'
Sexual Maturity : 6-8 years
Breeding Season : Varies with location 

Quills from Andean condor’s wing feathers were used in mechanisms of harpsichords.

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