Rare Andean Condors Roost on the North Shore

Dec 10, 2013

The female Andean condor Precious stretches her wings at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.
Credit National Aviary

As the snow falls on the city, a few of those flakes are finding the bald heads of a pair of birds at the National Aviary that many hope will someday find love on the North Shore. 

The Aviary recently obtained a pair of Andean condors with the hopes of getting the pair to breed. But with the male checking in at 43 years of age and the female 36 years old, these are no spring chicks.

“Andean condors have an average life span of 50-60 years in the wild, and in captivity they can live up to 70 years,” said National Aviary spokeswoman Robin Webber. “These birds are at prime age both for breeding and a happy life at a zoo or aviary.”

Andean condors are the world’s largest flighted bird, and with their featherless heads and contrasting white and black feather, they present an ominous look. 

Unusual for the vulture family, the males look different than the females.

“The males actually have a fleshy crest on their the top of their heads and a waddle on their necks while the females have bright red eyes and lack the crest and waddle,” Webber said.

Andean condors usually take up long term mates and the aviary is in the process of introducing the pair with the hope that they will begin the complicated courtship process. 

“Right now these two birds are living in separate enclosures next to one another and then slowly over the course of the coming weeks and months we will introduce them to one another and hopefully, eventually (the birds) will get together and produce some condor chicks,” Webber said.

The Andean condor species is listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is on a Species Survival Plan. Efforts are underway to breed Andean condors for re-introduction to their native habitats. Two Andean condors bred at the National Aviary in the past were released into the wild. 

Just 71 Andean condors currently live in captivity in 36 institutions nationwide.

“They are also an important species from an animal management standpoint,” said Kurt Hundgen, director of animal collections at the National Aviary. “Their numbers in the wild are dwindling, and only one chick was produced in the zoo population last year. We have a great opportunity to make a dramatic impact breeding these birds.”

The male, named Lurch, came to the National Aviary from the San Antonio Zoo. The female, Precious, came from the Dallas Zoo. Both were born in the wild.

The pair joins another female Andean condor that the Aviary has had since 1985. She is being housed elsewhere to allow the new birds to adjust to their new homes.  Webber said the goal is to move her back into the exhibit soon with the hope that a second male will also be added later.