Thursday, December 9, 2010

Creature Feature: Andean Condor.

In the grand scheme of things, many people overlook scavengers. After all, who wants to talk about creatures that feed on dead animals that they don't even hunt? (Actually, most of the "big predators" seen on Discovery Channel and the like scavenge, too; lions do so more often than hyenas.) What on earth could be interesting about an animal that eats rotting meat?

Oh, wow. Never mind. Take back all the bad reputation scavengers have for the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus), the largest flying bird on land.

The Andean Condor ranges along the Andes mountains and the Western coast of South America.  It is entirely a scavenger, feeding on dead deer and other large carcasses. It sometimes follows other scavengers, such as turkey vultures, to find said large meals.

This condor possesses the largest wingspan of any bird that flies over land. Its wings stretch 3.2 meters - approximately 11 feet - from tip to tip. An Andean Condor uses its large wings to glide continuously over hot updrafts of air called thermals. It can spend over a half hour just riding thermals, never once flapping its wings, and its nests are located such that it can jump straight into an entrancing, majestic glide.

Can we get any more pictures of this bird flying? Sure.

The Andean Condor is one of the few carnivorous birds with distinct sexual dimorphism. Not only are males bigger than females - unusual for birds of prey - but they have different eye colors. The male also has a fleshy comb like a rooster's (only considerably more like a pancake). Both have the featherless heads common to all (not necessarily related) scavengers called vultures, and both clean their heads meticulously. (If you ate rotting animals, you would, too.)

Also, he just LOOKS like a dude. 

Due to their general awesomeness, Andean Condors were revered as gods by many South American tribes. They were often associated with the sun. Their bones were thought to have magical properties, so the natives around the Andes would often do the Chinese thing and use them as medicine. Even today, many nations, including Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Argentina use the Andean Condor as their national bird.

Also, because this condor was regal enough to get its own Nazca line, it became the 'boss among bosses' of the Earthbound Immortal card group in the popular card game Yu-Gi-Oh!. A shame that the only condor in Pokemon is not nearly as flattering.

When you look at Wiraqocha's pink wings, the Pokemon condor is particularly sad.

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