(Sarcorhamphus gryphus) has usually been regarded as the largest of the birds of prey, but it is closely approached in size, if not indeed exceeded, by the California Vulture. Its length, according to Darwin, is about forty-eight inches, but it doubtless somewhat exceeds this, while the expanse of wings is variously given as from nine to twelve feet, with the probability of its rarely reaching ten feet. In color the male Condor is glossy black, with an ashy white bar across each wing. The base of the neck is surrounded by a large collar or ruff of snow-white down, above which is the bare portion covered with a wrinkled, dull red skin. “The forehead has a fleshy or cartilaginous comb or car-uncle, the throat is wattled, and there is a large, pendulous wattle on the upper part of the breast. The adult female lacks the comb, the wattles are smaller or wanting, there is less white on the wings, and the dark colors are duller than in the male.” BARROWS.
The Condor is found principally in the Peruvian and Chilean Andes, but it also ranges as far north as Bogota, and south to the mouth of the Rio Nigro on the east coast of Patagonia. According to the earlier observers, it was described as frequenting the loftiest peaks of the Cordilleras, reaching even the height of the vast Chimborazo, but later writers deny the truth of this, and state that it rarely if ever ascends above 16,000 feet, while the usual range is the zone lying between 9000 and 15,000 feet. The story of its ascending to these vast heights and then suddenly dropping in a few seconds to the level of the plains is more or less of an exaggeration, as are many of the accounts of its size and ferocity which early found their way into current belief. Thus a spread of wing of thirty feet to forty feet was not an uncommon estimate, but the clearness of the atmosphere and the absence of standards of comparison perhaps ac-count for this erroneous impression, which even Humboldt was hardly proof against. As he saw them sitting on the lofty summits of the crags they “appeared truly gigantic,” but in reality were less than four feet in length. So, also, the accounts of their killing sheep or even children and carrying them away to be devoured must be relegated to the chapter of myth and superstition, for the structure of the feet precludes the possibility of their grasping or carrying heavy burdens. They cannot even perch well on trees, but prefer a rocky ledge for a resting place.
The Condor feeds largely on carrion, but is also fond of fresh meat and may occasionally kill old, very young, or injured animals, of goats, sheep, or does. Like the other Vultures, they gorge themselves with food when opportunity offers, and at such times are easily approached and lassoed by the Guachos. “The Indians who live in the high mountains often catch Condors by digging a hole in the ground sufficiently large for a man to hide in, over which they place a cow’s hide, leaving only a small part uncovered down one side. Near this they place the carcase or part of an animal, and the man in hiding secures the Condors by the legs as they settle. Still another way is to place a carcase in a fairly deep trench, from which the Condors are unable to take wing again.” GOODFELLOW. They nest in the high, inaccessible fastnesses of the Cordilleras, selecting a ledge or shelf of rock, where, gathering together a few sticks or even on the bare rock, they deposit their two eggs. These are white, unspotted, and nearly four inches in length. The young when hatched are covered with a gray down, and require more than a year before being able to fly, and seven years before attaining mature plumage.