The Andean Condor is a truly astonishing creature – a bird so steeped in wonder and myth that it almost seems to transcend its place in nature. Its sheer size, ability to glide great distances, and the high regard with which it is held by many cultures make it a truly special sight in the South American skies. If an Andean Condor were to relay to us what the world looks like through its eyes, this is how it would appear.
Great lost city of Machu Pichu as beheld by the Andean Condor
From the La Sierra of Ecuador and Venezuela, down through the Peruvian, Chilean and Bolivian Cordilleras, and so on to the southern reaches of the Andes in Chile and Argentina, the Andean Condor sees all that lies beneath it.
In flight: the mountains between Argentina and Chile
At over 7000 km long, the Andes is the longest mountain range on earth. Its climate fluctuates from warm and wet in the north, to dry in central parts, and cold and rainy in the south. The altitude and proximity to the sea of the mountains also affect their climate, which can change dramatically over short distances – with alpine peaks sometimes just miles from open grasslands.
Everything before you is your kingdom
Yet if the Andes dominate the South American continent, only one creature can lay claim to dominating the Andes themselves. Soaring and wheeling in magnificent circles, the Andean Condor makes this extraordinarily diverse, mountainous landscape its home. It is comfortable only high above sea level, where it breeds and roosts at altitudes of up to 16,000 feet.
Andean Condor: can glide effortlessly for miles on end
The Andean Condor uses the windswept crags on which it nests to launch into the skies, where it can soar and glide on air currents with minimal effort, often travelling for miles without a single flap of its wings. In what seems an almost magical case of seeing the invisible, some sources even state that the Andean Condor can visibly detect the heat thermals that carry them aloft.
Giant of the skies: the Andean Condor has a 10-foot wingspan
The Andean Condor is a true colossus of the skies. One of the largest of all flying birds, its wingspan of 10 feet is surpassed only by the Wandering Albatross’s. Yet despite its size, the Condor does not hunt for prey but scans its territory for carcasses to feast on. And while it may not be the most beautiful of nature’s creatures, its grace in flight makes it an awe-inspiring sight that commands respect.
More than just a bird: a symbol for many cultures
Image: Art G
The Andean Condor has held an important place in the symbolism and folklore of Latin American peoples for thousands of years. In Andean mythology it is viewed as an embodiment of the sun and features heavily in art such as textiles and ceramics. It is also the national bird Bolivia, Chile, Columbia and Ecuador, as well as a national symbol of Argentina and Peru.
If we can only ensure that this majestic beast is protected from threats such as loss of habitat and poisoning from animals killed by hunters, the Andean Condor will continue to inspire us as it looks down from the heavens.