Few wildlife encounters in South America are more stirring than the sight of an Andean condor soaring into view – its broad, finger-tipped wings framed in the rugged maw of a canyon or silhouetted against the crystal-like snow giants of the Andes. These giant vultures, weighing 11-15kg, have a wingspan of up to 3.2m and rely on up-draughts from mountains and coastal cliffs to remain aloft. With a barely a flap, they can travel huge distances, scouring alpine slopes and desert shores for the remains of anything from whales and sea lions to vicunas and sheep. Andean condors have even been known to plunder seabird colonies for eggs.
Like many species of vulture, Andean condors have bald heads. You can tell the sexes apart by the male’s white neck ruff and overall larger size. Threatened by habitat loss and persecution by farmers, the plight of the Andean condor is not helped by its slow rate of reproduction – reaching sexual maturity at around five or six before typically laying a single egg every two years.
Spotting tip: Cruz del Cóndor, a mirador located at the deepest point in the Colca Canyon, offers spectacular views of Andean condors. Get there by around 9am to watch the birds riding morning thermals. They often spend the middle of the day scouring the upper slopes for carrion before returning to the canyon later in the afternoon.