The condor is known as New World Vultures and is part of the Cathartidae family.
The latter is divided into three genera – Vultur, Gymnogyps, and Sarcoramphus. Usually, only the first two are considered New World Vultures.
In contrast, specimens within the Sarcoramphus genera are considered part of a separate subfamily.
However, most authors specializing in the field do not indulge in this subdivision.
As such, it can be safely said that, at the moment, three condor species roam our skies.
The Vultur gryphus (the Andean condor part of the Vultur genus), Gymnogyps californianus (the Californian condor part of the Gymnogyps genus), and Sarcoramphus papa (the king vulture part of the Sarcoramphus genus) make up the list.
Let’s learn more about them!
3. Andean Condor
The Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is the only species within the Vultur genus currently classified as vulnerable, with roughly 10,000 specimens left worldwide as of 2020.
The natural range of this giant bird consists of the Andes mountains and South American Pacific coasts.
It was first described in 1758 by the scientist C. Linnaeus.
Given that it is native to multiple countries, the Andean condor is often called the Peruvian condor, Chilean condor, Bolivian condor, Argentinean condor, Colombian condor, or Ecuadorian condor.
The Andean condor is the largest flying bird and the largest bird of prey worldwide.
The giant that roams our skies weighs about 33 lbs (the heaviest among flying birds) and has a wingspan of up to 10 feet 10 inches (the widest among flying birds).
Vultur gryphus rarely flaps its wings while flying. Due to its immense wingspan and aerodynamics, the Andean condor soars more than it flies.
As a result, it can soar for prolonged periods. The bird floats in the air, flapping its wings only when necessary.
Certain airplane wings are designed based on the wings of the Andean condor.
According to Inca mythology, Vultur gryphus was an immortal bird.
It was called kuntur in the Quechua language and regarded as the upper world of the sky and future, a concept called Jananpacha by the Incas.
2. Californian Condor
California Condors (Gymnogyps californianus) are the largest land birds in North America and is currently classified as critically endangered, with 537 specimens left in the world (336 living in the wild) as of late 2022.
This magnificent bird was declared extinct in the wild in 1987.
The remaining specimens were captured, kept safe, and later reintroduced to parts of North America, including the coastal mountains of California, Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.
It was first described in 1797 by naturalist G. Shaw and named Vultur californianus, classified in the genus Vultur gryphus.
The difference in markings led to the Californian condor enjoying its monotypic genus today.
As the largest land bird in North America, Gymnogyps californianus has a wingspan of about 9.8 feet and weighs up to 26 lbs.
Like Vultur gryphus, the Californian condor is one of the longest-living birds in the world. It can grow as old as 60 years, whereas the Andean condor has a lifespan of about 70 years.
The Californian condor stands out thanks to its plumage – deep black all over but with characteristically wide, white patches on its wing underside.
Another peculiar aspect is their color-changing, mostly bald heads.
Young birds will have a grey head, whereas breeding adults can sport both yellow and bright orange head skin.
1. King Vulture
The King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is a large South American bird part of the Cathartidae family, classified as of least concern, with anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 specimens left in the world.
The bird was first described in 1758 by scientist C. Linnaeus, assigned to the Vultur genus, but reassigned to the Sarcoramphus genus by French zoologist Dumeril in 1805.
The particle papa in the bird’s scientific name refers to the usual clothing of a bishop (papa in Latin), as the king vulture’s plumage closely resembles it.
Besides the species of condors mentioned above, the king vulture is the largest type of New World vulture, weighing about 8 lbs, standing 2.5 feet tall, and having a 4 to 7 feet wingspan.
It can be easily recognized thanks to its primarily white plumage.
Upon close inspection, the keen eye will notice the plumage is slightly tinged in rose-yellow tones.
Upon landing to feed on carrion, smaller birds of prey will step aside and allow the king vulture to approach.
However, given that it usually arrives first at the scene, it will feast on the carcasses’ eyes until other vultures break into it.