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Colossal Condors--the largest flying land bird

Photo Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceBy Tonya Veal
Photos Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

If you visit the Pacific coastline along California or perhaps travel to South America near the Andes Mountains you might see a condor—the largest flying land bird in the Western hemisphere.

“Hey, let's head over to the carcass cafe and get a few pounds of rotten cow meat."

"Okay, sounds great. I haven't eaten in a few days. I'm starving."

That may sound gross, but if a condor could talk, these are things a condor might say to his friends. Condors are social birds. They use body language, hisses, growls and grunts to communicate.

The California condor is the largest flying land bird in North America. Its 9-and-a-half-foot wingspan is wider than some swimming pools are deep. California condors weigh 18 to 25 pounds.

The Andean condor is the largest flying bird in South America. At 33 pounds, this condor weighs more because it has an 11- foot wingspan.

Photo Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceBoth types of condors are scavengers and feast on dead animals (which is called carrion). California condors do not kill prey. Andean condors may steal eggs or eat newborn hatchlings of shorebirds at times.

Andean condors can eat up to 15 pounds of food at one time. Sometimes, these birds eat so much they are too full to fly. After a meal, they clean their bald heads by rubbing them on the ground to remove leftover food.

Both California and Andean condors live where winds and currents aid their flight. They soar among currents up to speeds of nearly 50 miles an hour and up to 18,000 feet high. While coasting, condors may flap their wings only once an hour.

California male and female condors look alike, but male and female Andean condors differ. Andean males have a fleshy piece on the top of the head called a comb and a wattle which is droopy skin similar to a turkey's neck.

Both species of condor are endangered, but there are only 358 California condors in existence. There are a few thousand Andean condors. Conservation efforts started in the 1980s helped a population of only 23 California condors to grow into the hundreds.

Condors still face danger because of destruction of their natural habitat by natural disasters such as storms or wildfires, or collisions with power lines.

You can read more about the endangered California condor, which has been called one of the rarest birds in the world, at these websites:

Back To YBO Home PageThat’s a BIG BIRD!
This story about California Condors is the fourth in a series of stories about big birds in America, which has already looked at Trumpeter Swans, American White Pelicans and Whooping Cranes.  Watch for the last story on an unusual big bird found in the United Kingdom and Europe, the Great Bustard.

Click here to read Trumpeter Swans -- Mates for Life

Click here to read Sneaky Scoopers -- the Pelican Story

Click here to read That’s a Big Bird! Whooping it up

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