Roost Sites and Communal Behavior of Andean Condors in Chile

Article excerpt

Conservation practitioners, natural resource managers, and local communities increasingly recognize that successfully achieving biodiversity conservation goals will require an interdisciplinary, holistic approach. Consequently, the application of "people-biota-environment" dimensions to biodiversity conservation issues has attracted great attentionn since 1992 (Posey 1999; Menzies 2006). Given rising economically driven resource use in many of the world's remaining isolated regions; integration of both anthropological and ecological knowledge with uses for biodiversity conservation is of special significance (Farina 2000; Turner, Boelscher, and Ignace 2000; Cabrera-Garcia 2006). Birds are sensitive indicators for biodiversity. Yet land-use practices and management systems in anthropogenic landscapes are harming bird populations. Birds are one of the most threatened vertebrate groups in depleted environments, with more than 1,000 species at risk of extinction. This condition exists despite the fact that ethno-ornithological patterns can appropriately form a firm baseline for biodiversity conservation and for advocacy of endangered-species protection (Gilchrist, Mallory, and Merkel 2005; Thomas 2006). Taking the case of the highly endangered Andean condor, Vultur gryphus (Figure 1), we look at the relationship between people and birds as one monitoring tool for bird conservation possibilities in fragile ecosystems in the southern Chilean Patagonia that ensures biodiversity maintenance.

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MORPHOLOGY, DISTRIBUTION, HABITAT, DIET, REPRODUCTION

One of the largest flying birds, the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus) has a body length of 1.1-1.3 meters and a wingspan of 3.4-meters. (1) Females weigh 8-11 kilograms; males, 11-15 kilograms (Fjeldsa and Krabbe 1990). The Andean condor is among the world's longest-living birds, with a life span of up to fifty years (Tait 2006). The plumage of adults is black, except for a frill of white feathers that almost surrounds the base of the neck and large bands of white on the wings. The head and neck are red and have few feathers. The crown of the head is flattened. In males the head is crowned with a dark red caruncle. Juveniles are generally brown, with blackish head and neck skin and a brown ruff.

The range of the Andean condor begins in Venezuela and Colombia, where the species is rare (Swaringen and others 1995; IUCN 2009), then continues south along the Andes in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, through Bolivia and western Argentina, to Tierra del Fuego (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). In the early nineteenth century the Andean condor bred from western Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego, along the entire chain of the Andes (Gould 1839, 31), but human activity has greatly reduced its range (Figure 2). Its habitat is mainly in open grasslands and alpine areas up to 5,000 meters in elevation. It prefers relatively open, nonforested areas, such as rocky mountains, that allow it to spot carrion from the air. It occasionally ranges to lowlands in eastern Bolivia and southwestern Brazil, descends to lowland desert areas in Chile and Peru, and is found in southern-beech forests in Patagonia (Sibley and Monroe 1990). The condors' diet mainly consists of carrion from large and medium-sized mammals, such as guanacos, sheep, and llamas (Iriarte, Franklin, and Johnson 1990; Sarno, Franklin, and Prexl 2000). Condors can cover distances of several hundred kilometers while soaring in search of food (Wallace and Temple 1987). They roost at elevations of 3,000-5,000 meters, generally on inaccessible rock ledges or cliff faces. They lay a single egg that is incubated for about fifty-nine days (Fisher 1944). Young condors learn to fly when they are about six months old, but they stay with the parents for several more months. Condors may breed only every other year because of the extended breeding season. Young birds become sexually mature at eight years of age (Wallace and Temple 1988; Temple and Wallace 1989). …