Andean Condor

Andean Condor

[ Vultur gryphus ]

Quick Facts

HEIGHT: 4 feet 
WEIGHT: 20 to 30 pounds
WINGSPAN: 10 feet
WILD DIET: carrion
ZOO DIET: beef hearts, mice, and bird-of-prey diet
DISTRIBUTION: formerly over the entire western coast of South America from Venezuela in the north to the southern tip of Patagonia; although their overall population is unknown, Andean condors are much rarer now and are found only in Peru, northern Venezuela, northern Columbia, and the cliffs of Patagonia
HABITAT: high mountains, open grasslands, alpine regions, lowland deserts, and coastlines
Superb Scavenger

Giant on the wing
The silhouette of the Andean condor is an awesome sight in the skies over South America. Glossy black, except for distinct white feathers on its underside, it looks to be all wing when in flight. With a ten-foot wingspan, the Andean condor is the largest bird of prey in the world. Its primary feathers stick out like long fingers at the wingtips, enhancing the bird’s already great size.

Eyes in the sky
Andean condors fly high. Riding warm, rising air currents, they can soar 18,000 feet in the air. That’s more than three miles up! Their broad wings allow them to conserve energy by gliding on the wind almost effortlessly. When the wind is right, condors can soar for hours at a time, seldom needing to flap their wings. As they fly, they scan the landscape below with their keen eyesight. From thousands of feet in the sky they can spot food on the ground. Finding something to eat from high up is a condor specialty. But what kind of food are they searching for from way up there?

The joy of carrion
Andean condors live off the leftovers of life. Any animal that dies and is within eyesight is fair game. Once they find carrion, condors are well equipped to deal with tough, decaying carcasses. They have sharp beaks to cut through leathery skin. Their pinkish, bald, head helps prevent bacteria from sticking and growing, a real hazard that comes with dining on dead animals.

Condors and other scavengers are a beneficial part of the natural cycle that removes carcasses and breaks them down so nutrients are available to plants and animals.

Some people like condors, some don’t
Fans of condors, such as the founders of the Chilean Republic, see these big birds as symbols of strength and grace worthy enough to be on Chile’s national coat of arms. Those who don’t care for them complain that condors kill livestockeven though they only feed on animals that are already deadand that a lifestyle based on eating carcasses is just plain unappealing. But regardless of their mixed reputation, Andean condors and other scavengers play a vital role as nature’s recyclers. Without them we’d have to be a lot more careful where we step!

Andean condors at Brookfield Zoo
You can see a male and female Andean condor in the large outdoor flight enclosure behind Feathers and Scales: Birds and Reptiles.

Brookfield Zoo is part of the Andean Condor Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSPs are cooperative breeding, education, and conservation programs among North American Zoos. One of the goals of SSPs is to match and mate endangered animals to produce genetically healthy populations in the future.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society