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What you should know about the Andean Condor

Get to know the world’s heaviest flying bird a bit better and read about two of our favourite spots in Peru for condor-spotting. Plus, some startling condor facts…

The Andean Condor is a bird of many superlatives. It has the longest wingspan of any land bird (up to 10ft 6in) ; it’s the world’s heaviest flying bird (average of 25lb, maximum of 33lb) and it is also the longest lived bird on the planet (one specimen lived to the ripe old age of 79 years!). It is found throughout the Andes – from Venezuela in the North to Tierra del Fuego in the South – and it features heavily on Coats of Arms, stamps and banknotes throughout South America.

Taking a rare break from the skies in the Colca Canyon (Picture: Lina Mon)

What’s more it plays a central role in Andean mythology, and representations of the bird have been found in artefacts that predate the Incas considerably. The condor is associated with Inti, the Inca sun god, and is the ruler of Hana Pacha, the upper world.

The basics

You won’t have any trouble identifying the condor (they’re just so huge) but if you’re in any doubt these bald-headed birds are predominantly black – apart from a white frill at the base of the neck and, in some mature males, large white blotches on the wings.

The Andean Condor is primarily a scavenger, and a typical day-in-the-life involves flying about 120 miles in search of carrion. Traditionally it would have feasted on the carcasses of llamas, guanacos, vicuñas and rheas but these days there are more dead cows, horses, donkeys and sheep in its habitat. The condor will go a few days without eating, before gorging itself to the point where it can’t even fly.

Condors take advantage of thermals to soar without every really having to flap their wings. (Picture: Vladimer Shioshvili)

The Andean Condor is not as endangered as its California cousin, but the species is still under severe threat…Especially at the Northern reaches of its range in Venezuela and Colombia. Find out more about conservation efforts and captive breeding programs here: Peregrine Fund.

Weird facts

  • The Andean Condor regularly empties it cloaca (i.e. poops) onto its own legs, hence the white streaks. Scientists believe that certain properties in the uric acid help disinfect their legs to help keep them clean.

  • In some Peruvian bullfights, known as Yawar fiestas, a condor is strapped to the bull’s back. “The ritual appears designed to show the triumph of indigenous culture over colonial influence. The Andean bird rides the symbol of Spanish virility and is then released, while the bulls are often slaughtered.”

    Read more (and watch a short film) about it here.

  • The Andean condor only reaches sexual maturity at the age of 5 or 6. Condors mate for life, and every second year the female lays 1 or 2 bluish eggs which will hatch after about two months. If one of the eggs is removed from the nest a replacement egg will be laid – researchers in some areas take advantage of this trait to effectively double the condor’s reproduction rate.

  • At night Andean Condors congregate to sleep. Relatively large groups roost on inaccessible cliffs and rocky outcrops, well out of the way of ground predators.

See condors in the Colca Canyon

If you’re serious about seeing condors then the Colca Canyon  near Arequipa in Southern Peru is an absolute must. The canyon is spectacular in its own right (it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) but most visitors get even more excited about the opportunity to get up close and personal with condors at the legendary Cruz del Condor viewpoint. Read more about the region here.

Take the plunge...

Most of our guests stay at the magnificent Colca Lodge located in the valley about 20 minutes from the town of Chivay. The lodge boasts incredible natural hot springs in the Colca River where you can have a great lunch and cocktails, without ever leaving the hot springs.

See condors from the Skylodge

Another incredible option, located near to Cusco and Machu Picchu, is the one-of-a-kind Skylodge which hangs 1,300 feet above the Sacred Valley. Access is not easy (you can either hike, zipline or climb to your room!) and the experience isn’t cheap.

A room with a view.

But those who choose to add the Skylodge to their itinerary are never disappointed: the views are out of this world, the food and service are exceptional and the night skies cannot be beaten. The best part? Guests who stay during the summer months are almost guaranteed to encounter a pair of condors who nest on a cliff above the lodge. It’s the closest you’ll come to sleeping in a condor’s nest.

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